The Soil Association says it “stand firm” by its flagship strategy The Road to 2020, after four trustees accused the organization of lacking commitment to organic.
The four trustees resigned from Soil Association Council last week, claiming that implementation of the strategy had led to a “demise in organic awareness” and “an avoidance where possible” of using the word ‘organic’ in the charity’s communications.
Georgina McLeod, the Soil Association’s director of communications, told Natural Products: “The Soil Association stands absolutely firm by its strategy. The organization isn’t at all embarrassed about the word organic. Organic is right at the core of what we are about, and it’s at the heart of our campaigns. In the summer we ran one of our biggest organic campaigns ever, to promote the findings of the Newcastle University survey. We’ve also just had a very successful Organic September and we’re currently promoting an organic Christmas.”
“Our message is very much, if you want to be a consumer-activist then buy organic – that way you are supporting the soil, wildlife and animal welfare.”
But she added that engaging with non-organic farmers and consumers was also an important and deliberate part of strategy. “We need to move beyond telling others they are wrong and ensure we are reaching out to a wider audience. You’re not going to change the world if you only talk to organic farmers. If we can help bring innovation and new ideas to all farmers, everyone benefits. And if we can encourage more farmers to farm sustainably it doesn’t matter if they do it because they’re ideologically inclined or if they’re doing it economic reasons. If we only advocate for certified organic farmers we will not have the relevance we now have for so any people, or have the opportunity to influence the whole food system. Our goal is to ensure that all farming is fair, humane and ecologically based.
The Soil Association also defends the principle of ‘starting where the peole are’. “Organic is the gold standard of sustainable farming, but we believe we should be working to remove the worst food, promote the best food and improve the rest.”
The resigning trustees, whose motion challenging the three-year old strategy, was rejected by the other trustees, also challenged the “questionable presence” on the Council of a “non-organic farmer and a doctor who frequently attacks a valuable tool of organic husbandry (homeopathy)”. Commenting on this, McLeod said: “Our trustee has been an organic farmer for many years and is one of the Soil Association’s greatest supporters, giving many years of service to the charity. We are delighted to have a non-organic farmer on our Trustee body, to help guide our important work of working constructively with all farmers. On support for homeopathy, as with any charity Trustees are expected to act in the best interests of the organisation. However, the subjects of food, farming health and the environment are very broad covering public health through to campaigning on issues such as GM – it is unlikely that all trustees will agree on every issue and within the broad aims of the charity healthy debate between trustees is encouraged.”