Our symbol and standards

The Soil Association is a charity which promotes and develops sustainable approaches to food, farming and other products. We run an organic standards setting programme to write, update and modify the rules and regulations for organic production and processing as necessary. As a result of this rigorous standards setting process some of our standards (rules and regulations) are higher than those given by the law for organic food.

Soil Association Certification is a wholly owned subsidiary of the organisation. It carries out inspections and awards organic certification to farms and businesses that meet our standards. You will notice our symbol and certification number (UK 5) on many items of organic produce. Our certification business is the oldest and most experienced organic certifier in the UK and licenses about 80% of the organic food on sale in this country.

Higher standards

When you are buying organic products we recommend that you look for the Soil Association logo. Our organic standards are among the highest in the world. You can find out detailed information about individual standards here, but below we outline some of the key differences between Soil Association organic standards and the baseline EU organic regulations:

Animal welfare

  • Our standards requires free range access for all the laying life for hens and at least two thirds of life for meat birds – UK baseline standards only requires poultry to have access to free range for one third of their lives.
  • Our standards allow a maximum flock size for meat birds of no more than 1,000, and for egg laying birds 2,000. In comparison other UK organic certifiers allow up to 9,000 birds per shed.
  • Soil Association requires a maximum of six egg laying birds per square metre, the rest of the UK is working to nine birds per square metre.
  • Our standards require that pigs must be able to free range when weather conditions permit. In comparison, the UK baseline standards only requires access to an outdoor run
  • Our standards do not allow pigs to have rings put through their noses. ‘Ringing’ is allowed under other EU standards
  • Teeth clipping and tail docking (used to prevent bored and confined pigs harming each other) are also banned under our standards. Under UK baseline standards these practices are restricted, but allowed if greater welfare problems could arise from not doing it
  • We also ban the castration of pigs, which is allowed under the UK baseline standards.
  • Some organic dairy cows are kept inside or on small paddocks for most of the year with cut grass brought to them. This is not allowed under our standards, where cows must be able to graze naturally if the weather allows.
  • When animals are treated with a course of antibiotics the withdrawl period (the time between the animal getting the drugs and their meat or milk going on sale) is three times longer than the statutory non-organic period under our standards. Other certification bodies only require twice the statutory withdrawal periods.

Conservation

The Soil Association was the first certification body to develop standards that ensured the environment on the farm was being carefully managed. Here are a few examples of our standards for conservation:

  • Farmers should keep an up to date conservation plan for the whole farm, prepared by an advisor
  • Hedges must not be trimmed between 1 March and 31st August. This is to allow birds to nest
  • There should be an area of uncultivated strip of grasses and flowers around any field larger than two hectares. This is to provide habitats and food for birds, mammals and insects
  • Sites of conservation interest must not be damaged, except with permission, which will normally involve getting approval from an appropriate conservation agency
  • To allow wildlife to travel between habitats, there should not be any more than 200 m between any part of the arable field and a permanently non-cultivated area such as a hedge, ditch or beetle bank.

The UK baseline standards cover aspects of nature conservation, i.e. maintaining hedgerows and nesting sites but they are neither detailed, nor obligatory.

GM

The Soil Association makes extremely stringent checks to ensure that no product we certify contains any GM material. A mechanism has been set up which can validate the purity of the crop at each stage of the supply chain. Crops that come through this system are known as 'identity preserved'. It is used widely for high-risk crops such as oil seed rape and soya. When products haven't come through this system, they are tested for GM to the lowest reliable limit of detection which is 0.1%. Other certification bodies may only test to 0.9%.