Four prominent Soil Association trustees who recently resigned from the charity have accused it of disowning the ‘O’ word and “a tendency to infantalise the organic message”.
In a blog the author and food campaigner, Joanna Blythman, says she and the other departing trustees – former Ecologist editor, Pat Thomas, organic baker Andrew Whitley and the journalist and long-time organic advocate Lynda Brown – felt Soil Association members had “a right to know” the reasons behind their decision.
The blog includes an edited version of the resigning trustees’ main concerns, which focus on the Soil Association’s key strategy document The Road to 2020, launched in Autumn 2011. They say that implementation of the strategy has been a “major factor in the demise of organic awareness”, which in turn has created “general confusion around what the Soil Association is, what it stands for, and what it does”.
The ex-trustees claim the Soil Association has “avoided where possible” the ‘O’ word (organic) in communications, preferring blander phrases such as ‘nature-friendly’ and ‘planet-friendly’. They accuse the charity of “the tendency to infantalise the organic message in major campaigns”
The resigning trustees warn of a “subordination of the organic message to a healthy eating message”, and say that the Food for Life and Catering Mark initiatives have become the organisation’s preferred voice. They warn that a policy emphasis of ‘starting where people are’ “leads to confusing messages and uncomfortable compromises”.
The trustees say they resigned after a motion they proposed to the Soil Association Council was rejected by the majority of Council members.
Pat Thomas tweeted yesterday that she had resigned “more in sorrow than anger”, while Lynda Brown said she was “sad, but proud to be organic”. Andrew Whitley’s message – from his BreadMatters account – was blunter, with his comment that the Soil Association “is drifting into irrelevance”.
But the Soil Association has rejected the criticism, saying that it “stands firmly behind (our) strategy, which focusses as strongly as ever on organic food and farming, but also reaches out to broader audiences”.
In a statement, the charity says: “We are absolutely committed to driving growth in the organic market; we’ve just had a great Organic September and are now into Organic Christmas, but the reality is we live in a country where not everyone yet has access to fresh, healthy, locally sourced food. In order to see real change, we need to work with all farmers – organic and non-organic – all communities, with food businesses, caterers, schools, workplaces and government and we are sorry these trustees felt unable to support this work. The Soil Association doesn’t just point out problems; we pioneer practical solutions and work with thousands of people to deliver these changes’.