What is Organic?

What Is Organic?

Organic farming reduces environmental pollution and the release of greenhouse gases from food production by severely restricting the use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Instead, organic farmers rely on developing a healthy, fertile soil and growing a mixture of crops.

In addition, no system of farming has higher animal welfare standards than farms working to Soil Association organic standards. Animals are reared without the routine use of drugs, antibiotics or wormers, animal feed is GM-free and poultry is always free-range. Organic standards also prohibit GM crops and ingredients, hydrogenated fats and controversial additives like aspartame, tartrazine and MSG.


  • Encourages wildlife
  • Builds soil fertility naturally using compost and clover
  • Champions biodiversity
  • Organic means working with nature, not against it.
  • Soil Association organic avoids most chemical sprays, promotes biodiversity, respects high animal welfare, guarantees free-range, and bans technologies such as GM and nanotechnology.
  • Organic production aims to use methods as close to nature as possible to maintain a healthy living soil and positive plant and animal health. Free range systems encourage healthy animals avoiding the need for routine antibiotics. Natural, sustainable soil fertility is cultivated through composting and crop rotation rather than synthetic fertilisers
  • Food produced organically encourages more wildlife and generally releases fewer greenhouse gas emissions than food produced conventionally. [As above – see notes on Defra’s Organic Action Plan at end of this section for supportive evidence]

Overall, organic farming supports more farmland wildlife than non-organic farming because of the way land is managed and treated. In non-organic farming, around 31,000 tonnes of chemicals are used each year in the UK to kill weeds, insects and other pests that attack crops. Organic farming uses mainly natural methods, developing a good soil and healthy crops which have stronger natural resistance to pests and diseases, and encourage natural predators to avoid the need for almost all pesticides.The UK government has said that organic farming is better for wildlife, causes lower pollution from sprays, produces less carbon dioxide and fewer dangerous wastes.

Evidence to support statements regarding wildlife and the environment

In its Organic Action Plan, the Government has stated that: “Organic farming and food offer real benefits for the environment”. Also, “On the basis of comparing average conventional and organic farms, organic farming is generally accepted to produce the following environmental benefits:

  • higher levels of biodiversity;
  • lower environmental pollution from pesticides
  • through lower use of energy inputs it contributes to reduction of carbon dioxide emissions
  • because of reduced reliance on external materials it produces smaller quantities of controlled waste and so contributes to waste reduction.”


  • Encourages diverse farming landscapes
  • Organic farming reduces pollution from almost all pesticides and chemical fertilisers
  • Champions sustainable, environmental principles
  • Organic farming releases fewer CO2 emissions overall than non-organic farming
  • Organic, local and seasonal food is friendlier to the climate
  • Organic farming bans fertilisers manufactured from fossil fuels
  • Organic farming bans fertilisers manufactured releasing nitrous oxide greenhouse gases
  • Less pollution from sprays
  • Fewer dangerous wastes
  • Organic farmers rely on developing a healthy, fertile soil and growing a mixture of crops.
  • Avoids almost all pesticides
  • Strict standards for environmental conservation and water use.
  • Organic farming severely restricts the use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides
  • Organic farmers use natural methods to fertilise their soil such as composting and planting clover to fix nitrogen naturally from the air.

Typically, UK organic farming uses 26% less energy per tonne of food produced. This is mainly due to the non-use of fertilisers which are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in agriculture and the single largest source of nitrous oxide in the world – a gas over 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.


  • Nutrient rich
  • Avoids all controversial additives
  • No controversial additives
  • No hydrogenated fats
  • No aspartame
  • No tartrazine
  • No MSG
  • No GM
  • No manufactured nanoparticles
  • No food has higher amounts of beneficial minerals, essential amino acids and vitamins than organic fooD


Only 36 of the 314 food additives approved for use across the EU are permitted in organic food. Amongst the additives banned by the Soil Association are hydrogenated fat, aspartame (artificial sweetener) and monosodium glutamate. Generally, permitted additives are derived from natural sources such as citric acid from lemons.


The best way of reducing your exposure to potentially harmful pesticides is to eat organically grown food, where their use is avoided. Over 311 pesticides can be routinely used in non organic farming and residues are often present in non-organic food. Over 40% of all non-organic fruit, vegetables and bread tested in 2005 contained pesticides according to the Government’s Pesticide Residues Committee. The results for particular fruit and vegetables were much worse, e.g. pesticides were found in all oranges tested, 90% of bread, 72% of grapes, 95% pears.

Soil Association standards ban the routine use of antibiotics in animal food. Some experts believe that antibiotic additives routinely used in non-organic farming to speed animal growth are linked with bacterial resistance in humans to the same or closely related antibiotics.

Animal welfare

  • High animal welfare
  • Free-range (For use in reference to organic poultry)
  • Animals reared organically are encouraged to forage and graze
  • Bans routine use of antibiotics
  • No animal welfare standards are higher
  • Chickens are truly free range. They live in smaller flocks, have better access to fresh grass and air and more space in their houses than non-organic chickens. Chickens must not be beak-tipped allowing natural behaviour like scratching in the dust for food.
  • Pigs must be free range and allowed to forage without painful nose rings.
  • Animals are reared without the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers common in intensive livestock farming
  • Animals are raised in conditions that suit their natural behaviour and are fed an organic diet
  • No other system of farming has higher animal welfare standards. Organic systems are free-range where standards have been set, and encourage the animals’ natural behaviour. Organically reared animals are fed a more natural, organic and GM-free diet
  • No system of farming has higher levels of animal welfare standards than organic farms working to Soil Association standards. Compassion in World Farming believes the “Soil Association’s welfare standards are leaders in the field”. (Joyce d’Silva, Director, Compassion in World Farming.)


  • GM-free
  • Genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are banned under organic standards. Over a million tonnes of GM crops are imported to feed non-organic livestock that produce much, if not most, of the non organic pork, bacon, milk cheese and other dairy products in our supermarkets. [Evidence: ‘Silent Invasion – The hidden use of GM crops in livestock feed. Soil Association report November 2007]


  • High standards
  • Organic food comes from trusted sources. All organic farms and food companies are inspected at least once a year. The standards for organic food are laid down in European law, and many of these are exceeded by the Soil Association’s stricter standards.

Statements approved as of March 2009 by Committee for Advertising Practise (CAP)