Gaining organic status

Organic farming and food production is governed by a number of European Regulations.

It is illegal to describe a food product as “organic” if it has not been certified as being organic by an “organic control body” and at least 95% of the product’s agricultural ingredients must have been produced organically.

What is an organic control body?

An organic control body is a body which is licensed to certify organic businesses. In England we have the following organic control bodies:

  • Organic Farmers & Growers Limited
  • Organic Food Federation
  • Soil Association Certification Limited
  • Biodynamic Agricultural Association
  • Ascisco Limited

Registering as an organic producer

In order to become certified by an organic control body it is necessary for the producer to apply to one of the bodies to be registered with them. The requirements of each of the organic control bodies varies and it is recommended that those wishing to convert to organic status check which of the bodies most suit their type of production.

Once an application has been received, the organic control body will carry out inspections of the producer’s farm and/ or any processing unit(s).

If the organic control body is satisfied that the requirements for organic status have been met it will issue a Certificate of Compliance and will notify the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) who will enter the farm onto a national register.

The process of converting to organic takes between 2 and 3 years.

The organic control body will thereafter carry out annual inspections as well as unannounced spot checks to ensure that the standards are maintained.

What are the requirements for organic producers?

In order to achieve organic status a number of criteria must be met. Those wishing to convert to organic status should check with the individual organic control bodies as to their specific requirements. Broadly speaking the main conditions which must be met are as follows:

  • non use of artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides;
  • the use of crop rotation and other forms of husbandry in order to maintain soil health and fertility and weed control, pests and diseases;
  • the use of organic seeds and seed potatoes unless such seeds or seed potatoes are unavailable (in such circumstances approval from the organic control body should be obtained);
  • the use of seed mixes for grass and forage which must contain at least 65% organic seed in terms of their weight;
  • the use of breeds and strains of livestock appropriate for use in organic systems (for example the use of slow growing strains of poultry);
  • the use of appropriate accommodation to house livestock and to ensure that livestock have access to pasture and open air areas where appropriate (for example, there are rules relating to the maximum number of poultry that can be contained in a house and rules relating to grazing, air space, ventilation, feed and water);
  • the feeding of livestock with feeds which are 100% organic unless such feed is unavailable in which the rules are relaxed (in such circumstances approval from the organic control body should be obtained);
  • the feeding of suckling animals only with natural milk;
  • the use of livestock manure or organic material;
  • the non use of growth promoters;
  • the non use of genetically modified organisms or products produced from or by genetically modified organisms.

The requirements apply to all parts of the production and processing chain and there are strict rules relating to the composition and labelling of organic produce.