We chat with Natasha Collins-Daniel from the Soil Association about all things organic.


What is the aim of Organic September? 

“Organic September is a month-long celebration of organic farming, food, drink, beauty products and clothes led in part by the Soil Association, the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for planet-friendly food and farming.

“In the face of climate change, diet-related ill-health and widespread decline in wildlife, the need to change our food systems has never been greater. Food and how we produce it can become a solution to these crises and organic can offer a simple, trusted way to be more sustainable.”

How do you define organic?

“Organic is a farming system and method of food production built on the principles of ecology, fairness, health and care. Organic farmers take a ‘whole system’, or holistic approach, considering the entire food system, from soils and farm animals to the health of people, nature and the planet.

“Organic farmers work with nature to produce nutritionally different food, farm animals are always free range and routine use of antibiotics is avoided.

“Organic food and drink must be independently certified. Wherever you see the organic symbol, you can be sure that the food has been produced to the highest standards. Choosing organic means supporting farming practices with a more traceable production process and you’ll always know what’s in your food.”

In what ways is organic better for the planet? 

“Organic farming can play a key role in helping to tackle climate change. Indeed, food and farming is a huge source of carbon emissions, accounting for around a quarter of greenhouse gases released worldwide.

“But what’s less well-known is that the very stuff we grow our food in - soil - has an incredible capacity to lock away carbon. There are currently some 2,500 billion tonnes of carbon stored in the world’s soils: that’s more than in plants, trees and the atmosphere combined. And organic soils are around 25% more effective at storing carbon in the long-term.

“As well as locking away more carbon, organic farms tend to have lower carbon emissions than conventional ones. Organic farming avoids man-made, synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, instead nourishing plants naturally by building up fertile soils. The result is lower energy use, which makes for a lower carbon footprint. In fact, if Europe’s farmland all followed organic principles, agricultural emissions could drop by 40-50% by 2050.

“Organic farming avoids chemicals and wildlife thrives. Studies have shown that wildlife is 50% more abundant on organic farms because of the complete absence of manufactured herbicides and the severely restricted use of pesticides. A recent study found that if all of Europe used farming techniques like organic, it would remove the use of 380,000 tonnes of pesticides a year – the weight of nearly 30,000 double decker buses!”

In what ways can choosing organic be better for our health? 

“Research has found that organic is nutritionally different, with organic meat and dairy 50% higher in omega-3 fatty acids thanks to the natural, organic diet the animals eat, while organic veg has been found to be up to 60% higher in antioxidants.”

A lot of people think organic food is more expensive, which can put them off. How can someone start opting for organic while on a budget?

“Often, organic is more expensive – but not always. Look out for staples like pulses, pasta, rice and wholegrains, which are often the same price as non-organic alternatives. Buying directly from farmers or through box schemes can be cheaper too. If you plan meals in advance, eat less, but better meat or try cheaper cuts and seasonal ingredients, organic can be more achievable.

“Where organic does cost more, you’re paying for the extra care farmers give to animals and the environment. By buying organic food, you are supporting sustainable, ethically grown, reared and produced food.

“The Soil Association is campaigning for greater organic farming subsidies and incentives for farmers to switch to nature-friendly farming systems to bring costs down.”

What are your hopes for the future of organic food?

“We want to see a world where organic and nature-friendly agroecological farming is the norm, not the exception, and where everyone in the UK has access to good, nutritious food.  After COVID-19, we can grow back better, transitioning to a healthier, more resilient and more sustainable food and farming system. The transition should begin today.”