Organic (IFOAM)



Organic is one of the most well-known and popular means to shop more ethically.

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) is the umbrella organisation for organic agriculture, and its establishment in 1972 marked the beginning of the modern, organised organic movement.

While food dominates the organic market, an increasing number of non-food items such as textiles and beauty products are now available.



While organic certification is globally governed by IFOAM, day-to-day organisation is highly fragmented between countries. IFOAM has some 800 member organisations (affiliates) in 100 countries across the world, responsible for producing and/or certifying organic goods.

Ten of these are based in the UK, the most prominent being the Soil Association. IFOAM's General Assembly elects a ten-member World Board every three years, and this board then selects around three of its members to sit on the Executive Board.

The biggest chunk of IFOAM's income is project revenue.



There are some 2 million certified organic producers worldwide, with some 650,000 in India alone. 170 countries produce data on certified organic agriculture.

The three largest consumer markets for organic products are the USA, Germany and France. In the UK, most of the big retailers have a large range of own-brand organic products.


Member assessments:

While regional variations exist, all organic initiatives work from the internationally recognised Principles of Organic Agriculture.

These are grouped into four categories:

1) Health – of the soil, plant, animal, human and planet

2) Ecology – working with, emulating and sustaining existing ecological systems

3) Fairness – equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world through fair relationships between humans, animals and the environment

4) Care – agricultural management that is precautionary and sustainable, taking into account the needs of future generations.

These broad principles are fleshed out in the detailed IFOAM Norms document.

The body responsible for overseeing the implementation of these norms is the International Organic Accreditation Service, founded by IFOAM in 1997.



Unlike other ethical consumption movements and initiatives, which tend to focus on the extrinsic aspects of production such as working conditions and the environment, Organic derives most of its value from intrinsic changes to the final product, e.g. less artificial pesticides and fertiliser residue; ban on antibiotics and genetically modified materials.

Consequently, much of the debate surrounding organic agriculture focuses on the nutritional and health qualities of these products.

The primary criticism is that there are minimal nutritional benefits to organic food.

The second main area of debate is about the wider environmental impact of organic farming. Critics of organics argue that organic outputs are actually more carbon intensive per unit of production, citing research positing organic yields to be 25% lower than their non-organic equivalent – making them less viable as a solution to global food supply challenges. 



Very high. Organic productscarry a consumer-facing label, which varies from country-to-country.

The UK's most well-known label is found on products certified by the Soil Association, who inspect all certified farms and businesses on an annual basis.



The Soil Association does not publish the findings of its audits, making it difficult to assess the relative areas of compliance and non-compliance with IFOAM Norms over time.

There is also little discussion of the auditing method, that is, how standards are actually measured on farms.




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