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The Soil Association is a charity based in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1946, it has over 27,000 members today. Its activities include campaign work on issues including opposition to intensive farming, support for local purchasing and public education on nutrition; as well the certification of organic food. It developed the world's first organic certification system in 1967 – standards which have since widened to encompass agriculture, aquaculture, ethical trade, food processing, forestry, health & beauty, horticulture and textiles. Today it certifies over 80% of organic produce in the UK.[1]

Soil Association
Soil Association logo.png
FounderLady Eve Balfour, Jorian Jenks.
FocusOrganic movement
  • South Plaza, Marlborough Street, Bristol BS1 3NX, UK
Area served
United Kingdom
MethodCampaigning and certification
Key people
Monty Don: President, Helen Browning: Chief Executive
Charity Commission. Soil Association, registered charity no. 206862.



The Soil Association was formally registered on 3 May 1946,[2] and in the next decade grew from a few hundred to over four thousand members. The founding members comprised notable figures from various fields, including doctors, dentists, farmers, journalists, engineers and horticulturalists.[3]

According to its website:

"The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists who observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health."
"The catalyst was the publication of "The Living Soil" by Lady Eve Balfour, the niece of former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, in 1943. The book presented the case for an alternative, sustainable approach to agriculture that has since become known as organic farming."

The Soil Association was founded in part due to concerns over intensive agriculture and in particular the use of herbicides. A comparison between the two forms of farming in 1939 was called the Haughley Experiment. The headquarters of the Soil Association used to be at the nearby Haughley Green in Suffolk.

British Union of Fascists (BUF) member, Jorian Jenks, who wasclosely associated with Oswald Mosley was one of the founders of the Soil Association.

Jenks was for years the editorial secretary of the Association's journal "Mother Earth". During the late 1940s the Association involved far-right and even antisemitic elements, remnants of the defunct BUF, and was driven by far-right political ideas as much as ecological concerns. Following Jenks' death in 1963, the Association tilted towards the left of the political spectrum, especially under the new president of the Association, Barry Commoner.[4]

The campaigner Alastair Sawday was Vice Chairman of the association between 2005 and 2007.[5]

The Soil Association was one of five like-minded associations that founded the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) in 1972 in Versailles, France, to act as the umbrella organisation to advocate for the global uptake of organic farming.[6]


The Soil Association carries out work certifying products as organic in the following areas:

The Soil Association played a leading role in the development of the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and is a quarter owner of Global Standard GmbH. The GOTS standard was designed to make trading more efficient for operators and provide clarity for consumers on organic textiles.[citation needed]

The Soil Association Certification has been certifying organic textile businesses to the GOTS standard since 2006 . There are several other certification bodies now working to GOTS globally, with around 3000 businesses in 55 countries certified to GOTS.[citation needed]


The Association's campaign priorities are to promote organic food and farming, promote food security, and to lobby against genetic modification, many pesticides and the routine use of antibiotics.[7] Many campaigns are led by reports produced by the policy department. Currently, the organisation is campaigning to save the honeybee and to promote community supported agriculture.

Policy reportsEdit

The Soil Association's policy department carries out research and releases reports to further its aims. Recent major themes include:

Climate-friendly farming

Ten recent reports, including:

  • 'An inconvenient truth about food – neither secure, nor resilient' (2008) A report on Britain's food security summarising how UK food self-sufficiency has declined over the past decade and that there is no overall, future-proofed 'Food Plan for Britain'.
  • 'Organic works' (2006) - a report examining employment on organic farms and how organic farming is providing more jobs through organic farming and local food supply.
Welfare and wildlife

Eight recent reports, including:

  • 'MRSA in farm animals and meat' (2007) This report focuses on a major new antibiotic-resistance problem in farming, which may have serious consequences for human health. In some countries MRSA has been found in a large number of farm animals and in retail meat.
  • 'Batteries not included – organic farming and animal health' (2003) This report looks at the major animal welfare benefits provided by organic farms, and the opportunities to further improve welfare for organic farm animals.

Ten recent reports, including:

  • 'Georgie porgie pudding and pie' (2008) The first detailed investigation into the state of food fed to young children attending nursery schools in England and Wales.
  • 'Not what the doctor ordered' (2007) This report, sponsored by Organix[clarification needed], asserts there is a contradiction between the Government's policy on healthy eating and the dominance of junk food on sale in many hospitals and leisure facilities.
  • 'A fresh approach to hospital food' (2006) This report sets out the Cornwall Food Programme, which pioneers tasty, healthier and environmentally friendly hospital meals.
  • 'The real meal deal' (2006) This report from the Soil Association and Organix takes a look at what's on the menu for children at 10 popular family restaurant chains and 14 major visitor attractions.
Genetic Modification

Four recent reports, including:

  • 'Telling porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production' (2010); This report challenges the claim that we need to increase global food production by 50% by 2030, and 100% by 2050.
  • 'Land of the GM-free' (2008) A briefing on the launch of a major new non-GM labelling initiative in the US, the latest on US farmers rejection of new GM crops, and the staggering collapse in the market for Monsanto's GM milk hormone.
  • 'Silent invasion – the hidden use of GM crops in livestock feed' (2007) An investigation into the use of GM animal feed which finds that large quantities are being used in the UK to produce our food. This means that most of the non-organic milk, other dairy products and pork sold in the UK is from GM-fed animals.


The Soil Association also runs a number of schemes designed to educate people and reconnect them with the land and where their food comes from:

  • 'The Food for Life Partnership' [8] is a £16.9m lottery-funded programme involving four charities – the Soil Association, Focus on Food Campaign, Health Education Trust and Garden Organic. It aims to transform school and community food culture across England by giving schools and communities access to seasonal, local and organic food and the skills they need to cook and grow fresh food for themselves;
  • 'Organic Farm School' is a series of over 300 hands-on courses in growing your own food, rearing animals, cooking and rural crafts;
  • 'Organic Apprenticeship Scheme' is a two-year course involving a work-based placement with an organic farmer or grower and eight structured seminars per year.

Quality of foodEdit

Soil Association standards[9] are recognised to exceed statutory organic standards, such as those set by the European Union, and the UK government. Compassion in World Farming regards Soil Association standards to offer the best guarantee of high animal welfare standards in the UK.[10]

In July 2009 the Food Standards Agency published a report[11] which concluded that there were "no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food." The Soil Association issued a statement[12] criticising the report for not taking into account existing studies on the subject and noting reasons other than nutrition for consumers to choose organic food, such as environmental and animal welfare concerns.

BOOM AwardsEdit

The Soil Association awards annual BOOM Awards (Best of Organic Market) for businesses, producers and brands. In 2017 there were awards in 21 categories such as "Bakery", "Best Organic Box Scheme" and "Best Organic Blogger", and "The Nation's Favourite", won that year by Island Bakery of Mull for their "Lemon melts" (lemon biscuits dipped in white chocolate), out of 3,000 public nominations.[13][14]

Farmers and growersEdit


Soil Association standards set strict benchmarks for organic food production, packaging, animal welfare, wildlife conservation, residues and additives to reassure the buying public over the quality of products labelled organic. Its standards often go beyond the 'baseline' legal requirements for organic farming in the EU, particularly for animal welfare and use of pesticides and fertilizers. Compassion in World Farming considers that Soil Association standards offer the best guarantee of high animal-welfare standards in the UK.[citation needed] Standards are regularly reviewed by independent committees and go through a rigorous consultation and approval process to ensure they are kept high, but attainable. The Soil Association also works at European and international levels to help achieve consistently high organic standards across all bodies and authorities. It is one of the first organic standard-setting bodies to exclude nanomaterials from its organic production standards.[15]

Standards cover:


Soil Association Certification Ltd (SACL) is a not-for-profit subsidiary of the Soil Association charity, independently providing organic certification services and advisory support on all aspects of organic certification. SACL is one of nine approved organic certification bodies in the UK,[24] known as Organic Control Bodies, approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. SACL inspects and awards organic certification to over 4,500 farms and businesses around the world. It inspects each licensee at least once a year and carries out random, unannounced spot inspections and inspections in response to complaints or concerns.

Business supportEdit

The association provides general, legal, trading, marketing and training advice and support to existing businesses and those considering going organic. This includes tailored support for livestock, arable, horticulture, processing and forestry.

The Soil Association has been at the forefront of establishing alternative routes to market for organic produce. Projects have included creating producer groups to optimise trade in conventional market systems, nurturing UK Farmers' markets and box schemes, promoting community-supported agriculture schemes and better public catering, and encouraging visits to a network of over 100 farms.

The Soil Association provides a host of financial and economic information, including yearly [] ( market reports) and monthly agricultural price data. It created Organic Marketplace, the UK's largest searchable directory of organic livestock, feedstuff, forage and grazing, a free online service available to all.

Data and organic action plans are available for each UK region.

The Soil Association is a major supporter of the Organic Trade Board, a commercially focused body, representing about 100 organic businesses and acting as an industry voice. The Soil Association complements the board by acting as the voice of the organic campaign movement.

Governing structureEdit

  • Council of Trustees
  • A Senior Management Team
  • Certification Scrutiny Committee A committee of independent representatives ensuring the association's certification processes are operating with integrity. All members are elected and meet six times a year.
  • Processor Technical Group A group of industry experts that represent processor licencees on technical and certification issues. All members are elected.
  • Eight standards committees Groups of trade representatives, the first step in a chain of groups jointly responsible for changing standards. All members are elected.
  • Farmer and grower board A board made up of producer members which represents their interests within the association. All members are elected.

There is a Scottish division called Soil Association Scotland, which is based in Edinburgh.

Their governance was changed when new articles were introduced on 11 July 2015.[25]

Who's whoEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Our history". Soil Association. Archived from the original on 27 March 2012. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  2. ^ Paull, John (2009). "The Living Soil Association: Pioneering Organic Farming and Innovating Social Inclusion" (PDF). Journal of Organic Systems. 4 (1): 15–33.
  3. ^ Conford, Philip & Holden, Patrick (2007), "The Soil Association", in William Lockeretz (ed.), Organic Farming: An International History, Oxfordshire, UK & Cambridge, Massachusetts: CAB International (CABI), pp. 187–200, ISBN 978-0-85199-833-6, retrieved 10 August 2010 ebook ISBN 978-1-84593-289-3
  4. ^ Macklin, Graham (2007). Very deeply dyed in black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the resurrection of British fascism after 1945. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-284-4.
  5. ^ "Alastair Sawday: the green travel pioneer". The Simple Things. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  6. ^ Paull, John (2010). "From France to the World: The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)" (PDF). Journal of Social Research & Policy. 1 (2): 93–102.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Food For Life website
  9. ^ Soil Association organic standards online Archived 1 July 2012 at
  10. ^ "Consumer advice when buying pork and bacon".
  11. ^ Organic review. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
  12. ^ Soil Association response to the Food Standards Agency's Organic Review. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
  13. ^ "The BOOM Award Winners 2017". Soil Association. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  14. ^ "The 2017 Nation's Favourite Shortlist". Soil Association. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  15. ^ Paull, John (2011) "Nanomaterials in food and agriculture: The big issue of small matter for organic food and farming", Proceedings of the Third Scientific Conference of ISOFAR (International Society of Organic Agriculture Research), 28 September – 1 October, Namyangju, Korea., 2:96–99.
  16. ^ "Agriculture standards committee". Soil Association. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  17. ^ "Aquaculture standards committee". Soil Association. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  18. ^ "Ethical trade standards committee". Soil Association. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  19. ^ "Food processing standards committee". Soil Association. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  20. ^ "Forestry standards committee". Soil Association. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  21. ^ "Health products standards committee". Soil Association. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  22. ^ "Horticulture standards committee". Soil Association. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  23. ^ "Textiles standards & trade group". Soil Association. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Soil Association website Archived 21 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 8 October 2015
  27. ^ Monty Don: ‘I like dogs because they are not humans’, The Guardian, 11 Dezember 2016
  28. ^ "Who We Are". Soil Association. Retrieved 26 September 2016.

Further readingEdit

  • Conford, Philip (2001), The Origins of the Organic Movement, Floris Books, ISBN 0-86315-336-4
Sayre, Laura (4 March 2004), Review: The Origins of the Organic Movement, Rodale Institute, retrieved 14 August 2010 (provides useful overview and commentary on the book's contents).

External linksEdit