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Why buy… Organic?

What exactly makes a product certified organic and why is it such an important ethical label? We look at different organic schemes available particularly for food.

UK shoppers are now spending £1.73 million a week on organic products. 

With the organic market showing consistent growth, we ask what exactly makes something 'Organic' and why is it a good thing?

What does 'organic' mean?

Organic food is produced using more environmentally friendly and animal friendly farming methods meaning its better for people, animals and the planet.

Organic standards are the rules and regulations that define how an organic product must be made. 

In order to be accredited (or even just to market your product) as organic you must meet the following broad standards which are laid down in European Union (EU) law:

  • no genetically modified crops and ingredients
  • the use of pesticides is severely restricted
  • artificial chemical fertilisers are prohibited
  • farm animal welfare is paramount

Organic farm animals:

  • cannot be given hormones to make them grow,
  • must be free range
  • must be fed natural GMO-free food
  • must not be produced from cloned animals
  • must be free from drugs, antibiotics and wormers (at the time of sale)

The 5 main benefits of buying organic 

1. Wildlife friendly

One of the main benefits is a reduction in the amount of toxic chemicals used. We know that chemical fertilisers and pesticides are often harmful to wildlife and organic farms severely reduce their use.

2. Climate friendly 

Organic farming methods are less dependent on non-renewable, fossil fuel-based fertilisers and pesticides. Organic farming also stores higher levels of carbon in the soil.

3. Improved quality of the land

Organic methods of production restore the quality of soil by using natural methods to return nutrients to the soil.

4. Better conditions for animals

The standards around animal welfare mean animals that are reared organically lead healthier, more comfortable lives.

5. Human health 

There is now evidence that there are some health benefits to organic food. For example research suggests that both organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products.

How can I tell if something is organic?

There are some 2 million certified organic producers worldwide. They all adhere to the Principles of Organic Agriculture

In the UK, for a product to be labelled organic at least 95% of the ingredients have to be sourced from organically produced plants and animals. 

Many of the products that are marketed as organic are not independently assessed to ensure they comply with the standards. 

It is therefore important to look out for an independent ethical label, such as the one from the Soil Association, so that you can be sure that the product has fulfilled the criteria.

Soil Association Organic logo

Organic labels

Many different organic labels exist.  In the UK they are regulated by the government and nine different organisations are registered to certify organic products.

The biggest and most recognisable organic label in the UK is the Soil Association.

Other organic labels include: 

Organic Farmers & Growers Ltd 

Organic Food Federation  

Biodynamic Agricultural Association 

Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association 

Organic Trust Limited  

Quality Welsh Food Certification  

Global Trust Certification Ltd  

OF&G (Scotland) Ltd  

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) globally governs how products are accredited. However affiliate organisations, such as the Soil Association, manage the day to day accreditation in each country.

Organic clothing

Organic labels can also apply to clothing, not just to food. If you've not thought about organic cotton or organic bamboo for example, take a look at our introductory article on organic fashion and clothing.

We explain what it is, what to look for, and where to buy organic clothing, including from some of the ethical clothing brands.

Organic labels on cosmetics

Terms like ‘natural’ or ‘naturally-derived’ are often found on health and beauty products, leading to claims of greenwashing. You may also see organic labels on cosmetics and toiletries.

Our article on ethical labels for organic and natural cosmetics and toiletries highlights some of the labels to look for.

Highlights from Ethical Consumer Markets Report 2021

Back in 2010 the market for organic products was £1.475bn. However, by 2020 this was £2.6bn.

Sales of organic food rose by 19% in the 12 weeks ending May 2020.The pandemic boosted sales for local organic producers, with consumers over-subscribing to veg box schemes to minimise their risk of infection and avoid supermarket food supply shortages. 

Download the full 2021 report for more information.

Further Reading 

Our product guides below feature products that are certified organic (shown by [O] next to the brand name on the score table). See where they rank in the table in comparison to regular products. 

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