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Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, among her organic cattle. Photo: Soil Association.
Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, among her organic cattle. Photo: Soil Association.
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The Soil Association's mission is organic - and it always will be!

Helen Browning / Soil Association

2nd December 2014

The Soil Association doesn't need to 'get back to its roots', writes Helen Browning - because it never left them! It remains firmly committed to its founders' original organic mission for health, environment and animal welfare. And that means reaching out to a broader public, ensuring that organic principles are ever more widely understood and applied.

If we are to see real change in the world we need to work positively with all farmers - organic or not - sharing the research and knowledge of organic farming techniques, and learning from them too.

Since the 1940s the Soil Association has campaigned for food and farming systems that support the health of our people and environment.

This work is just as relevant now as it was back then. We want to see a future where good food, organic food, is accessible to everyone and where we farm in a way that supports biodiversity, improves animal welfare and addresses climate change.

Though there is always more to do, we are making progress towards achieving this vision.

Last month, four of the Soil Association's 17 Trustees resigned following the rejection by their fellow Trustees of a motion challenging our three-year old strategy, 'The Road to 2020'. Our strategy focusses as strongly as ever on organic food and farming, and also reaches out to broader audiences.

We are sorry these trustees felt unable to support our initiatives to work with non-organic as well as organic farmers, and with many other people in schools, hospitals and society more widely. We think the challenges facing our food systems today are so urgent that we need to work with all who are interested in finding solutions that are in line with our founding principles.

Transforming Britain's food culture

Food, and how we produce it, is an entry point into people's lives and health. It helps develop an understanding of our connection with the natural world, as well as being critically important in its own right.

We understand the pressures facing consumers today. Far from eschewing the term organic, we are working to change perceptions, by ensuring that many more people routinely eat better food, including organic, in schools and hospitals for instance.

We work with schools across the UK transforming food culture with great school meals, children growing and cooking food, and even holding their own farmers markets in partnership with local farmers and growers.

Our Catering Mark is transforming an industry previously driven by cost, not quality, and everyday hundreds of thousands of people in nurseries, schools, workplaces, hospitals and care homes people now eat fresh, healthy and locally sourced meals. At silver and gold Catering Mark award these meals now all include organic.

This work couldn't be more important. Earlier this year, the Department of Health identified hospital food as a clinical priority for the first time and the Hospital Food Standards Panel recognised the Catering Mark as a scheme that improves food in hospitals for patients, staff and visitors.

We are working with an increasing number of hospitals to improve food served, including Nottingham University Hospital Trust whose meals have a minimum 15% spend on organic ingredients.

Our commitment to organic food and farming is as strong as ever

Organic farming has many of the answers that can help with some of the big challenges of the future such as climate change and the crisis now facing our soils. Organic farmers and growers are the true pioneers and heart of the organic movement and we remain absolutely committed to supporting them and continuing to grow the organic market.

We also know if we are to see real change in the world we need to work positively with all farmers - organic or not - sharing the research and knowledge of organic farming techniques, and learning from them too.

With World Soils Day on Friday (5th December) and the UN International Year of Soil in 2015, it's a good moment to reflect that the health of our soil is critical to all farmers, not just organic ones.

So it was inspiring to see more non-organic farmers than ever before at our annual Soil Symposium last week, sharing ideas how to improve our soil and produce the very best food we can.

Through our Duchy Originals Future Farming programme we are supporting innovation in organic and low input agriculture, and helping farmers develop practices to improve productivity while caring for the environment and animal welfare.

Most farmers don't have this 'us and them' attitude We are all trying to make a living the best we can, working together to find solutions to the issues facing agriculture in the UK. We would like to think we can find solutions which bring the farming community and wider society together - that doesn't mean we won't sometimes disagree, but we want to work constructively wherever possible with as many people as possible.

Farming must be fair, humane, healthy and ecologically based

We need to move beyond just telling others they are wrong; we need to share ideas and solutions to some of the big challenges facing our food system today. We want the Soil Association to become much more relevant to a lot more people - the public, farmers, businesses, schools and the public.

I want us to become better known for what we are for, rather than for what we are against. Our goal is to ensure that all farming and food is grounded in the organic principles - fair, humane, healthy and ecologically based - even if not all of it will be 'certified' organic.

I hope that this has made it clear that we remain completely committed to organic farming and to growing the market for organic food as the current 'gold standard' for good food.

The Soil Association was founded to research and disseminate the links between the way we manage our soils, and the impacts on human and environmental health.

Nothing could be more important, and our remaining trustees are fully committed to our approach, as laid out clearly in 'The Road to 2020'.



Helen Browning is Chief Executive of the Soil Association.



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