What you can say when selling organic food

Since the beginning of 2013 the organic market has begun to show signs of recovery. We believe this is a crucial moment for everyone in the organic  movement to come together with a clear call to consumers - organic is food you can trust, better for the environment and animal welfare. We believe that there is strong scientific evidence to back up most of the benefits that those of us involved in organic farming and food know it delivers.

For decades we have worked tirelessly to help prove the key tangible consumer benefits of organic food and farming and have regularly published guidance on approved statements. We have created a detailed PDF guide of 'what you can say when marketing organic' which is available free of charge to all Soil Association licencees. 

Advertising Standards Authority and Copy Advice

In the UK, marketing statements are overseen by a voluntary system, funded by the advertising and related industries, and run by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Businesses wanting to know if statements they make about their products will be found to be inaccurate by the ASA if a complaint is made about what they say, can check in advance with the Committee of Advertising Practice - called Copy Advice.

Copy Advice say they are ‘responsible for writing and maintaining the UK Advertising Codes and providing authoritative advice on the rules’. They are  funded ‘by an arm’s length levy on advertising space and a small amount of income raised from charging for some training seminars and premium advice services’.

The Advertising Codes are administered by the Advertising Standards Authority. Copy Advice are linked to but say they are independent of the ASA, and always take pains to stress that if they advise that a statement is acceptable, it still may be found to be unacceptable by the ASA. Nevertheless, Copy Advice’s view carries some weight with the ASA, and certainly provides a useful guide to advertisers.

You can’t say everything that is true!

The rules governing what you can say to sell a product, as administered by the ASA, do not simply rely on a statement being true. For example, you are
not allowed to say something that the ASA might feel ‘denigrates’ other products. Recently, the European Union introduced new, very strict, rules about any statements implying that a product has nutritional benefits or will make people healthier - such statements are now extremely difficult to make, and the new rules are still very unclear, and will remain so until they have been subject to rulings by the European Court.

The ultimate outcome is likely to reflect well on the organic movement, because whilst the number of nutritional/health claims overall will be reduced, some of the spurious claims made by elements of the food industry will be banned for good.

Using our guide 

  1. Once you have decided to use a statement, we strongly recommend you then check your actual advertisement with Copy Advice. The context in which the statement is used, and any associated imagery, can alter the meaning of the words. Copy Advice can be reached via their website and proposed statements can be submitted via the website for free advice.

    Copy Advice always undertake to respond within 24 hours, and in our experience their staff are generally helpful, and willing to explain the basis of their advice. However, remember that Copy Advice will always qualify their opinion by stressing that it does not bind the ASA itself.
  2. You need to hold any evidence that might be required, to substantiate the statements you make, when you make them. We have a fully referenced version for the statements some referring back to our own organic standards, and where appropriate to the relevant scientific research.

The statements are available to Soil Association licensees on request. Please contact Katie Stinchcombe at kstinchcombe@soilassociation.org