In July 2011, Jyoti Fernandes and Simon Fairlie were hauled up before the Soil Association tribunal for giving a few wheelbarrows of grass cuttings from a nearby vegetable garden (which is farmed 100 per cent organically but not certified) to their cows; and feeding stale bread to pigs from a bakery that had recently pulled out of organic registration. As a result they have taken the cows and pigs out of the organic certification system. Simon and Jyoti are not alone in quitting the Soil Association. Many small farmers and smallholders have discovered (either before applying or after) that the way the organic certification system is structured is both too impractical and too expensive for small-scale local producers — particularly those who own limited amounts of land, and hence have to rely on rented land, imported hay or waste products.
The Land magazine has highlighted these issues before (in issue 4), and also, in The Land 8, explained why we believe the entire organic registration system (of which the Soil Association is only a subsidiary) is topsy turvy — enforcing additional bureaucracy and labelling on those who farm organically, whilst farmers who resort to chemicals and poisons to increase their yields are defined as “conventional”.
There are many smaller-scale alternative organisations and labelling systems in existence, supporting and promoting organic agriculture both nationally and locally, and working responsively with their members. We believe this choice makes for a healthy network amongst small producers and growers. We also believe there is room for another, temporary, society, informally structured, with these aims:
To assist public recognition of local produce that is produced organically, or nearly so, but is not certifiable, thus building a self-managing network of ethical producers based on trust.
To campaign for organic agriculture to be recognised as “conventional” and normal, while the burden of licensing and labelling is imposed upon farmers who use non-organic methods, ie artificial fertilisers, pesticides and GM material
Dde-monopolisation of the word “organic”, currently owned under trademark by the Soil Association; the term “conventional farming” to become synonymous with “organic farming”.
The name, and label, of this mutual society is ICBINO – I Can’t Believe it’s Not Organic – and the logo is shown here.
Our attempt to trademark it were disappointed – we were hoping for a tussle over the “O” word, and the issues of “ownership” that surround it. Instead we were refused because the “I Can’t Believe” part is owned by Unilever. The happy end result of this failure is a “brand” that nobody owns. The logo is, obviously, based on the wheelbarrow story above, and is now available in various formats to all who sub- scribe to the aims, objectives, and spirit of this association. We do not consider the aims of ICBINO to be incompatible with existing certification systems, such as the Soil Association or Demeter, which guarantee higher and more specific standards of sustainable agriculture than ICBINO covers. Members may belong to as many other organisations as they wish.
ICBINO will be informal. The labelling system will involve no bureaucracy, relying on trust, peer review and informed cus- tomer consent to maintain standards. Here are the proposed
(1) There is a one-off charge of £5 for affiliation, to cover admin.
(2) Members will be supplied with the template for the ICBINO logo, to use on all products that comply.
(3) Members will be required to sign a guarantee that the ICBINO logo will only be used on produce sourced from land that has had no chemical fertilizers or pesticides or GM material applied in the last three years, with the following exceptions: livestock fed on waste food constituting no more than 25 per cent of their diet; livestock fed on specialist foods which are unobtainable organically (eg molasses) which constitute no more than 5 per cent of their diet; processed foods which contain modest amounts of non-organic additives because organic equivalents cannot be sourced from the UK; land manured with sewage waste, providing it conforms to current environmental standards.
(4)Members must allow other members to visit, inspect and report on their land and farming methods, by appointment.
(5) Members must organise and promote at least one open day every year when customers and the public can inspect the farm.
(6) Members will be removed from the register if their stand- ards are deemed unacceptable.
When all its aims have been achieved ICBINO will dissolve itself, as it will have served its purpose.
A website is under construction at www.icbino.net where further information will be posted. Anyone interested in taking on and running this project should contact the editors of The Land.