Organic Honey in the UK

Organic Honey is regulated by strict set of guidelines, which covers not only the origin of bees, but also the siting of the apiaries. The standards indicate that the apiaries must be on land that is certified as organic and be such that within a radius of 4 miles from the apiary site, nectar and pollen sources consist essentially of organic crops or uncultivated areas.
Also enough distance must ne maintained from non agricultural production sources that may lead to contamination, for example from urban centres, motorways, industrial areas, waste dumps, waste incinerators. The 4 miles guideline originates from research done by The National Pollen Research Institute, which is the maximum distance bee's travel from their hives.
These strict guidlines mean that is almost impossible for any UK producer to be certified as organic. Therefore as you pointed out most organic honey is unfortunately imported.

Helen Ireland
(Information and Supporter Services Officer)

Campaigning for organic food and farming and sustainable forestry

How Do I Know it's Organic?

Organic Standards and what the Symbols mean 'Organic' is a term defined by law and all organic food production and processing is governed by strict standards.
Producers, manufacturers and processors of organic foods have to be registered with one of the approved certification bodies and are required to keep detailed records ensuring a full trail of traceability from farm, through any processing operations, to table. Any major infringement of this results in suspension of licence and withdrawal of products from the market.
All organic farmers, food manufacturers and processors are inspected annually, as well as being subject to random inspections.
The standards are stringent and cover every aspect of registration and certification, organic food production, permitted and non-permitted ingredients, the environment and conservation, processing, packaging and distribution. The standards are regularly updated and are then enforced by certification bodies.

The British governing body is the independent UK Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS), which sets the basic standards to which the various organic bodies and producers have to adhere. UKROFS standards in turn, conform to the European Community regulation on organic production (no. EEC 2092/91).

Each certification body has its own symbol and EU code number. These are the marks you should look for on organic products, and are visible proof that they have met the required standards.

The Soil Association's standards are set at a higher level than those laid down by UKROFS. They are decided by the Soil Association's elected council based on advice from nine standards committees, each concentrating on a different area. These committees meet regularly to review any amendments or new additions to the standards and any concerns that Soil Association members or supporters have raised.

The Certification Bodies

UKROFS - UK1 Largely funded by MAFF, UKROFS is the government authority responsible for the approval and supervision of the other certification bodies. Any produce bearing the UKROFS label will have been produced to UKROFS standards.
Producers registered with the following certification bodies may also use the UKROFS logo if they wish.

Soil Association Certification (SA Cert) - UK5 The country's leading certification body, certifying approximately 70% of organic food sold in the UK. It certifies to the standards set by the Soil Association, its parent charity. Soil Association Certification isaccredited by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), the only UK body to have achieved this.

Organic Farmers and Growers Ltd (OF&G) - UK2 The second largest organic certification body in the UK.

The Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA) - UK3

The Organic Food Federation (OFF) - UK4 A trade federation set up primarily to help its members, who comprise producers, manufacturers and importers to market organic foods.

Demeter (BDAA) - UK 6 Demeter is the written symbol used for the Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association (BDAA).
The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers (IOFGA) - UK7 Has its own standards additional to those laid down by UKROFS which it shares with the Organic Trust.

Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd Organic certification of farmed salmon in Scotland. A number has not been allocated to Food Certfication (Scotland) Ltd because although there are recognised private standards (as allowed by EC regulations) fish products are not yet covered by EC rules.

Organic Trust Ltd - UK9 Set up in 1991, the Organic Trust is a non profit-making organisation and certification body using standards shared with IOFGA.

CMi Certification - UK10
CMi is a PLC which provides a range of food, health and safety professional
services and has recently begun organic certification.

FVO - Farm Verified Organic - UK11 A certification body run by the US basesd International Certificational Services. FVO is accredited by IFOAM.

The easiest way to tell if a UK manufactured or packed product is organic is
to look for the EU certifier code number, listed above, on the packaging.
Labelling regulations are strict and all organic food sold in shops must be
clealry marked as such. Regulations are the same for all organic
certification bodies, are governed by EU law and also apply to imported EU
and other pre-packaged organic foods. Most manufacturers also use the logo
of their certification body, as above, as a more readily identifiable
organic mark.

Imported Produce

Each EU member state has its own national organic certifying authority which applies the EU regulation in that country, much like UKROFS. These approve private certification bodies or in some cases take on the role of certification themselves. As in the UK, each certification body may apply additional specifications on top of the EU standards.

Food imported from outside Europe into the EU is subject to similar rigorous checks and standards. Imported produce must come either from countries recognised as applying equivalent standards and inspection procedures, or from identified supply chains where it can be verified that equivalent standards and certification criteria have been permanently and effectively applied at all stages. Importers and their storage facilities are also inspected and certified to ensure all their importing activities comply with the above.

If in doubt...
To avoid any confusion with non-organic produce, most organic food is sold pre-packaged. Always check for the symbol and/or number of recognised certification bodies. Where produce is sold loose, proof of certification must be available to consumers. If the retailer cannot prove to your satisfaction the certification of the produce being sold, then you should be able to ask who their supplier is and be able to contact them to find out about their certification.

All manufacturers must be registered with a certification body. Also any shop that repackages goods out of sight of customers, or restaurant or pub that cooks its own food and labels it 'organic', must have its own licence to do so and therefore must be inspected and certified. If they are not, then please send their details to the Soil Association so we can contact them and help them towards compliance with the law.

Soil Association
40-56 Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6BY T: 0117 929 0661
F: 0117 925 2504 E:

© Soil Association Approved: 08/02/2002

Campaigning for organic food and farming and sustainable forestry

Organic Food and Farming - Some Common Questions Answered

What is organic farming?
"Sustainable agriculture is a form of food production which builds biodiversity and provides people with wholesome, healthy food for all time" - Jonathon Porritt, patron of the Soil Association

Organic agriculture is a safe, sustainable farming system, producing healthy crops and livestock without damage to the environment.

It avoids the use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides on the land, relying instead on developing a healthy, fertile soil and growing a mixture of crops. In this way, the farm remains biologically balanced, with a wide variety of beneficial insects and other wildlife to act as natural predators for crop pests and a soil full of micro-organisms and earthworms to maintain its vitality.Animals are reared without the routine use of the array of drugs, antibiotics and wormers which form the foundation of most conventional livestock farming.

Organic is a term defined by law and all organic food production and processing is governed by a strict set of rules. The Soil Association Symbol is awarded to organic products which have been inspected and conform to our "Standards for Organic Food and Farming".

Is there anything in the Soil Association Standards about Animal Welfare?
The Soil Association insists on stringent animal welfare standards in its "Standards for Organic Food and Farming". The rules are constantly under review by a group of experienced organic farmers, vets and scientists to ensure that all the farm animals are reared in optimal conditions on organic farms.

Animals have access to fields and are allowed to express their natural behaviour patterns. Animals always have comfortable bedding, usually straw, and plenty of space when they are housed.

Organic livestock farmers can manage their animals without the routine use of antibiotics and other drugs because they run a healthy, balanced system; not keeping too many animals on a given area, keeping a mixture of species wherever possible and using natural organic feedstuffs. Grazing animals like cows and sheep are fed mainly on herb and clover rich grass.

Homeopathy and herbal remedies are used widely in organic livestock management. In a case of acute illness, where the animal might otherwise suffer, a conventional drug treatment would be used.

Are there any health reasons for buying organic food?
The best reason for buying organic food is simply that it tastes extremely good, but undoubtedly there are also sound health reasons for doing so. It has been shown in some studies to have more vitamins and trace elements than conventionally grown food and, of course, it will not have been treated with noxious chemicals. The Soil Association recently compiled The Organic Farming, Food Quality and Human Health' report. This brought together evidence from scientific studies showing that on average organic food is better for you than non-organic food.

There is a vast array of pesticides used in conventional agriculture, many of which are extremely toxic to humans, causing cancers as well as other illnesses. So-called acceptable levels are calculated for each of these chemicals and their risks to human health evaluated. However, surveys consistently show much higher residues occurring in a proportion of food samples than government regulations allow. There is also little knowledge of the long term effects of these compounds or of the 'cocktail' effect (the way in which their toxicity may be increased by mixing them together).

Intensive agriculture methods also cause high levels of pesticides and nitrates to filter through into drinking water via the water courses. Not only does this present a serious health risk but the cost of reducing the levels in the water has to be met by the tax payer.

Are Gentically Modified Organisms used in the production of Organic Food?
The Soil Association prohibits the use of GMO's in organic food production and in animal feed.

"The Soil Association believes that genetically modified organisms have no place in organic food or farming and they are therefore prohibited under the Standards for Organic Food and Farming" - Soil Association policy statement on genetically modified organisms.

Is there a risk of livestock contracting BSE?
Organic beef comes from the safest possible form of farming.

The Soil Association banned the inclusion of animal proteins in ruminant feeds in 1983 long before the emergence of the BSE crisis. There has not been a recorded case of BSE in any herd which has been in full organic management since before 1985.

Is Organic Farming good for the environment?
"Wildlife is not a luxury for the organic farmer, but an essential part of the farming system." - Soil Association handbook 1991

Extensive research has shown that organic farming can be better for the environment than conventional agriculture.

Surveys by, among others, the Ministry of Agriculture and the British Trust for Ornithology, have shown the beneficial effects of organic farming on wildlife. It's not difficult to see why; the pesticides used in intensive agriculture kill many soil organisms, insects and other larger species.
They also kill plants considered to be weeds. That means fewer food sources available for other animals, birds and beneficial insects and it also destroys many of their habitats.

In contrast, organic farming provides a much wider range of habitats; more hedges, wider field margins, herb and clover rich grassland and a mixed range of crops. Conservation is an integral part of the Soil Association's standards.

The avoidance of artificial chemicals means organic farmers minimise health and pollution problems. They also reduce the use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels which are used to produce fertilisers and other agrochemicals.

How do I know it's organic?
The Soil Association Symbol is your guarantee of genuine organic food.

To carry the symbol, all products must conform to the "Standards for Organic Food and Farming" and each producer, processor or retailer displaying the Symbol will have been inspected and registered on an annual basis.

'Organic' is a legal definition and all products must be certified by a government approved body, registered with the United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS).

The Soil Association Symbol is the largest of its kind in the UK and accounts for 70% of all certified organic products. It is the most commonly found organic symbol in the UK.

There are a number of other registered symbol schemes:

Soil Association Certification (SA Cert) - UK5
Organic Farmers and Growers Ltd (OF&G) - UK2
The Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA) - UK3
The Organic Food Federation (OFF) - UK4
Demeter (BDAA) - UK 6
The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers (IOFGA) - UK7
Food Certification (Scotland) Ltd
Organic Trust Ltd - UK9
CMi Certification - UK10

Thanks to Peter Edwards for bring this information our attention (webmaster)

Update 17/06/05:
UK Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS) no longer functions. You will see that the DEFRA site: lists an archive for UKROFS data. Clicking on the link, it says 'Although UKROFS no longer has any legal status in the UK the work it _did_ is still relevant and useful.' Tony Macer

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