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What is Organic?

Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.

Definition of Organic Agriculture, IFOAM – Organics International

What is Organic Farming?

Organic farming is a sustainable farming system that combines modern science and technology with traditional farming practices to maintain the long-term fertility of the soil and use less of the Earth's finite resources whilst producing high quality, nutritious food. Organic techniques have been developed from an understanding of and research into soil science, crop breeding, animal husbandry and ecology. The maintenance of soil fertility relies principally on the use of legumes, crop rotations, the application of composted animal manures and ground rock minerals. Pests, diseases and weeds are normally controlled by choice of appropriate crop species and varieties, crop rotation, mechanical cultivation, encouraging natural pest enemies, physical barriers and thermal weed control. Artificial fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives are generally prohibited because of their negative effects on soil life, the environment or food quality.

A Whole System Approach


In the face of climate change, diet-related ill-health and widespread decline in wildlife, the need to change our food system has never been greater. The “whole system” approach used in organic attempts to address issues in a joined-up way. Organic therefore provides solutions to many problems, offering truly sustainable food for a growing population, in a way that works with nature. For more information, read our 5 Reasons to Go Organic.



Organic agriculture is based on 4 key principles.


Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.


Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.


Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.


Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.


Food You Can Trust

The standards for organic food are laid down in law (and, in places, these are supplemented by the Soil Association’s well-evidenced higher standards), so certification is required to grow, process or market organic products, plus all organic farms and companies are inspected at least once a year. Soil Association Certification certifies over 70% of organic food in the UK and the organic label is the best way of assuring that the food you eat has been produced to a standard you can trust.


  • To produce food of high quality and in sufficient quantity by the use of processes that do not harm the environment, human health, plant health or animal health and welfare

  • To work within natural systems and cycles at all levels, from the soil to plants and animal

  • To maintain the long-term fertility and biological activity of soils

  • To treat livestock ethically, meeting their species- specific physiological and behavioural needs

  • To respect regional, environmental, climatic and geographic differences and the appropriate practices that have evolved in response to them

  • To maximise the use of renewable resources and recycling

  • To design and manage organic systems which make the best use of natural resources and ecology to prevent the need for external inputs. Where this fails or where external inputs are required, the use of external inputs is limited to organic, natural or naturally-derived substances

Soil Association Certification certifies over 70% of organic food in the UK 

Organic Certification

The labeling and marketing of organic food and feed products is controlled by Retained Regulation (EC) No. 834/2007, (EC) No. 889/2008, (EC) No. 1235/2008, and Organic Products Regulation 2009. Any person or organisation intending to produce or process organic products must be subject to an inspection and certification procedure by an approved Control Body.

Who or What has to be Certified?


Farm production including arable and horticultural crops and livestock producing food intended for human consumption. Each production unit has to be registered and inspected. The area of land to be converted is specifed down to the individual fields. Only products from certified fields may be marketed as organic. Each production enterprise, such as cereals, dairy cattle and milk, vegetables etc. must be licensed and only products from those enterprises may be marketed as organic.  


Processing involving food preparation, prepacking and storage. This includes on-farm processing such as dairy products, butchers shops, etc. Where the farm's products are stored or processed at other premises, the premises used must also be inspected. 


Organic products imported from countries outside the European Union, known as third countries



The re-labeling of products at any stage of the distribution chain.


Organic Food Processing


What do they need to do to achieve organic certification?



Ingredients should only be sourced from suppliers holding valid certification from an approved organic control body.


Agricultural ingredients (e.g. meat, our, oils, sugars etc) must be organic unless they are from the short list of agricultural ingredients that are not currently available in organic form. Items from this list may be used but must not exceed more than 5% of the agricultural ingredients in the recipe.


Upon verification that incoming organic ingredients are certified and have not been contaminated in transit, they must be segregated and clearly labelled as organic. Segregation needs to be maintained throughout intake, storage, processing and packing. 


It is necessary to put systems in place to prevent organic product becoming contaminated with cleaning products, non- organic ingredients and other substances. 


The product label must identify the body that has awarded organic certification. 

Example of an Organic Procedure


This example is based on a plant that makes both organic and non-organic products, where it is important to keep the organic goods separate.



All ingredients used are organic or from the approved lists and details of the supplier of each ingredient and a copy of their organic certificate must be supplied.



Agricultural ingredients are ordered from certified organic suppliers only. A copy of each supplier's organic certificate is obtained every year and kept on file.



The nature, quantity, origin, and organic status of all ingredients are checked at intake and recorded. The organic status of the goods should be made clear on both the packaging and on the delivery note and it must be possible to identify the organic control body that has certified the goods. Each batch is allocated a goods received number (GRN) which follows the ingredient through the process to enable traceability.



Stock takes of raw materials and finished goods are carried out on a weekly basis, so that mass balances can be carried out when required. Goods are traceable from intake through to processing, by means of the GRN. When ingredients are mixed, the GRN numbers are recorded on the daily Processing Record Sheet and the batch of finished products is traceable by means of the Best Before date on the packs.



Organic goods are securely packed, clearly labeled, and kept separate from non-approved goods at all times. Dedicated organic containers and utensils are used wherever possible. Where this is not possible, containers and utensils are cleaned and rinsed before being used for organic items. We aim to carry out organic processing first thing in the morning when the line is clean. However, if for some reason it is not possible to do organic production first, then the line is fully cleaned and rinsed, before organic production starts.



All product contact surfaces, including utensils, are cleaned using food-grade detergents and sanitisers, then rinsed with clean water. Details of areas cleaned and rinsed are logged on the Cleaning Record Sheet.



This is undertaken using licensed baits and electronic fly killers, by a member of staff trained in Pest Control. Details of baits used, checks done, pest activity seen and subsequent treatment are recorded on the Pest Control Record Sheet.



Biodegradable or recyclable packaging is used where possible and a specification is requested from the supplier together with confirmation that each material complies with relevant packaging regulations and does not contain material derived from GM sources.


All staff are trained in Basic Food Hygiene and this organic procedure. Details of training are recorded on the Training Record Sheet and kept in the Personnel File.


All labels include the correct Approved Certification Body reference with the conditions and requirements relating to the organic logo of the EU. All artworks are approved by them prior to use.

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pre-packed foods can only be labeled 'organic' if at least 95% of the ingredients of agricultural origin are organic 



Growers, processors and importers can only label pre-packed foods ‘organic’ if at least 95% of the ingredients of agricultural origin are organic.


There are different labelling requirements depending on whether the organic product is produced for GB, EU or other third country markets. Growers, processors and importers who sell food or feed as organic must be registered with an approved organic control body. They are inspected at least once a year to ensure they are not using banned substances such as growth hormones and their use of veterinary medicines such as antibiotics.

Retailers can only label products ‘organic’ as long as at least 95% of the product’s farmed ingredients are organic and they sell direct to customers in their shop, this applies to all retailers from farm shops to supermarkets


How To Read The Labels


The food label must state the control body’s code number. For UK-origin produce the code number format is GB-ORG-XX. Produce usually has a different 3-letter code, such as ‘bio’, ‘öko’ or ‘eko’ instead of ‘org’, if it’s from a non-English speaking country.


How to Know The Origin


A statement of agricultural origin must be included on all labels. 


  • ‘UK Agriculture’ – where 98% of the ingredients are produced in the UK

  • ‘UK or non-UK Agriculture’ – where the product is produced with ingredients grown in and outside the UK

  • ‘Non-UK Agriculture’ – where 98% of the ingredients are produced outside the UK


More specific references can be made if 98% of ingredients are grown in a specific area. For example, milk from Northern Ireland (NI) can be labelled as ‘Northern Irish Agriculture’, or Welsh lamb can be labelled as ‘Welsh Agriculture’.


Why you can see organic ingredients used in non-organic products?


Producers are allowed to list ingredients in non-organic food products as organic providing they meet GB or EU organic standards. For example, a label can say ‘organic sugar’ on a food package that contains non-organic ingredients.





Certifying over 50% of the UK's organic land area. OF&G also certifies processing and importing operations, along with a number of overseas production and processing facilities.




The Organic Food Federation was established in 1986 and is recognised by DEFRA (Department Environment Food & Rural Affairs) as an organic certification body and also carries out audits for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) National Organic Program in the UK. The Organic Food Federation standards for non-food items and criteria for wild designation of plant materials are in line with EU regulation.



GB-ORG-05, GB-BIO-142

The Soil Association developed the world’s first organic standards in the 1960s. Standards are the rules that define how an organic product must be grown, farmed or made. The principles upon which the Soil Association’s organic standards are based are set out below. Organic takes a “whole system” approach to farming and food production – it recognises the close interrelationships between all parts of the production system, from the soil to the food on our fork. This comprehensive set of organic principles guides the Soil Association’s work and standards.

Copy of Organic_Soil.png



BDA Certification is an approved UK Organic Control Body, accredited to ISO/IEC 17065 by UKAS. Biodynamic and Organic agriculture are ways of cultivating the earth and producing food that are based on environmentally regenerative, socially responsible and economically moral principles which are striving to be harmoniously balanced. Biodynamic certification which will permit use of both the Organic logo & the highly respected Demeter trademark.



Quality Welsh Food Certification Ltd (QWFC) is part of the cooperative sector in Wales, established to certify farm and food sector assurance schemes, operating to EU recognised standards and is approved by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). It employs over thirty assessors to monitor the FAWL, Welsh Organic Scheme and Assured Dairy Farm scheme programmes.




Since 1988 SOPA have been at the forefront of Scotland’s organic industry. Working in partnership with OF&G (Scotland), SOPA provides quality organic certification to its members. Inspections and certification through this joint venture are widely regarded as setting the benchmark for the industry. SOPA’s Organic Certification for farmers, growers and food businesses across the supply chain carries our expert guidance and is based on the European Organic Regulation (EC 834/2007) which forms the core standards to be adhered to by operators across the EU.

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