The Soil Association Standards Board would misjudge its role by including air freight in its Organic criteria
Labelling is pretty much the most important issue in consumer environmentalism, so it was an interesting story when the Soil Association Standards Board announced earlier in the summer that it is considering withdrawing its Organic label from air-freighted food. The organisation is looking for the right answer, saying that: “when reducing our impact on the world’s climate, we must carefully consider the social and economic benefits of air freight for international development. … The Soil Association Standards Board is taking a lead role in tackling this complex issue”.
As usual, when food miles are considered, the debate has focused on trade-led development vs. greenhouse gas emissions, with a healthy dose of scepticism about the lifecycle efficiency of local produce.
In fact, the issue is to do with transparency, not ethics.
Labels are supposed to give shoppers concise information to help them make (often complex) choices. If labelling organisations start making their own complex ethical judgements, rather than providing transparent information, the choices become more confusing for consumers. The whole premise of consumer environmentalism is that our own views about issues such as trade-led development vs. greenhouse gas emissions should be reflected in our spending habits. A separate footprint label, such as the one under development by the Carbon Trust, would allow us to weigh up the issues ourselves.