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March 24, 2008

Is the UK Soil Association concerned about anything more than pocketbooks of its members?

by Tim Worstall

I've long referred to the Soil Association as the trade union for organic farmers. As with all trade unions, their purpose is to increase the incomes of their members at the expense of all those who are not their members.

There's nothing wrong with this, it's simply the working out of the freedom of association which we all enjoy as a natural human right. However, it is important to be clear headed about what they do.

Mrs Thairu, a Kikuyu peasant farmer in her late sixties, and the rest of the village some 15 miles outside the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, will lose their livelihood if the Soil Association takes away their right to put an organic label on their produce because of the “food miles”. Charles Kimani, who farms avocados in the village and was unemployed until the demand for organic food hit Kenya about ten years ago, said: “A ban on our export market will be death for us.”

These Kenyan farmers are using organic methods: however, there's one inconvenient point from the Soil Association view. They're cheaper than British organic produce and thus people consuming organic doesn't lead to the desired higher incomes for SA members as consumers eat the imports. And thus the as yet unsettled debate within the SA as to whether airfreighted food can indeed still be labelled as organic.

As I say, there's nothing wrong with free association: however, there's a little wrinkle here. The Soil Association is the body that decides whether goods can be described as organic or not.

And thus, if airfreighted food is to be denied such certification, we will have the domestic producers protecting themselves, through the law, against foreign competitors. To the benefit of British farmers, to the cost of British consumers, to the cost of the environment and most importantly, causing the penury of those foreign farmers.

Be interesting to see how the decision goes: is the SA really concerned about anything other than the pocketbooks of its members?

The Business Magazine

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