The organic market has come a long way. When it all began in the Sixties, there was just one wholefood shop and restaurant in London, which went on to become Whole Earth Foods. In the Seventies, the growth of natural food stores offered a new outlet for organic food and by 1974 the market was worth about £3m. Since then, it has grown year on year at a steady 30 per cent and is now nudging £1bn in sales each year.
The market has grown in sophistication too. Almost every food product is now available in organic form, from avocados to Zanzibar cloves. The diversity and quality is something we can all enjoy and celebrate in Organic Week, sponsored this year by Dove's Farm, Highland Spring and Organix Brands.
Three of our leading supermarket chains now stock more than 1,000 organic lines and have been supporting British organic farmers by reducing their reliance on organic imports. Sainsbury's has made a public commitment to increase the proportion of their British sourced organic foods from 40 per cent to 55 per cent by January 2004 and was last year crowned Organic Supermarket of the Year by the Soil Association.
It was Sainsbury's that was first to stock Green & Black's organic chocolate when Josephine Fairley and I introduced it in 1991 - the first chocolate made from 70 per cent cocoa solids to be sold in Britain. Three years later they supported the launch of Maya Gold coffee - the first product to carry the Fairtrade Mark. Maya Gold is produced in partnership with the indigenous Maya of southern Belize.
We can say after 10 years of working with farmers in the developing world that farming without chemicals promotes increased incomes, environmental sustainability, better education and better health.
More and more people are making the connection between their food choices and the health of the planet and of their families. Three out of four babies are regularly fed organic baby food, with increasing numbers of parents sticking with organic food as their children get older.
The key factor that underpins the growth in organic food is trust. The Soil Association has set standards since 1974, and involves farmers, food companies and consumers in developing its standards to ensure that the word "organic" means what people expect it to mean. The Soil Association symbol on a product guarantees that the most rigorous certification procedures have been followed, including annual inspections.
The Soil Association also provides information to hundreds of thousands of people each year, increasing understanding about the connection between organic food, human health and the environment. We have a network of 40 farms across the UK which are open to the public and schools, attracting around 300,000 visitors each year. This helps children to obtain a more balanced understanding about food and nutrition than is provided by a steady diet of junk-food commercials on television.
Perhaps our proudest recent achievement has been to cut through the hype and hysteria surrounding the introduction of genetically engineered crops and expose it as a scam built on extremely shaky science. Our Seeds of Doubt report revealed the truth about the unforeseen and damaging consequences of the uncontrolled introduction of GM crops in North America.
The cost of flooding our planet with chemicals is only beginning to be measured, but it is clearly unacceptable. Agrichemicals are the worst of the man-made chemicals because they are specifically designed to be biologically active - to kill living things. It is now scientifically proven and accepted among policy makers in the UK and EU that organic farming offers a sensible and economically viable alternative. The Government has acknowledged that organic farming is better for wildlife, avoids pollution from nitrates and pesticides, produces less carbon dioxide and locks up carbon in the soil, has high animal welfare standards and increases jobs in the countryside. It has also stated that organic food is subject to tight, legally enforceable controls, inspection and standards, providing full traceability. In addition, the Soil Association believes that there is a growing body of evidence supporting the health benefits of organic food.
Founded in 1946, the Soil Association has stuck resolutely to a simple policy - work with nature as you can never successfully repress it. The unravelling of the agrichemical revolution has shown that our founders' vision was clear and accurate.
Craig Sams is chair of the Soil AssociationReuse content