Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Soil association

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It's weird how perceptions change with time and education. Something that started out of idle curiosity because of something I saw on TV, has managed to become my lifestyle. Going down the memory lane: organic food, and even more so beauty, seemed like a fad, a slightly alienating hippie trend. I remember mentioning that I eat predominantly organic, and that I'm in the process of switching to natural beauty, to be met with stares that made me check my shoulder just to make sure I didn't suddenly a grow a second head.

 

Now it isn't so strange, and while of course not everyone agrees on importance or benefits of going organic, there is definitely a lot more awareness. There is even a whole month dedicated to it, Organic September.

 

I remember when I first made a conscious decision to switch to predominantly organic products both in my kitchen and my beauty cabinet. The thing I was most concerned with was how do I know if it really is organic? Every time "organic" pops up in a conversation with my nearest and dearest, most of whom do not share my convictions, there is a lot of scepticism, not only about whether the products are worth it, but their authenticity is also being questioned.

 

In honour of Organic September and Soil association (the organisation behind it), I decided to do a series of posts throughout the month about the products that I use that are certified by it. I don't mean just beauty, but food, fashion and supplements too. I thought it fitting to start with a closer look at the certifying body itself: Soil Association.

 

The organisation was setup in 1946 out of concerns for intensive farming and its effects on the surrounding wildlife, and the nutritional content of food. At this point it was mostly about research, and while the results of the research was not as clear cut as was hoped for, a much clearer understanding of best practices has been achieved and that is what founded the organic standards. The organic certification itself was set up in 1973 due to demand from some consumers and farmers, and it is the system that is used now.

 

Soil Association however is a registered charity, concerned with campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. The organic certification aspect is separate in a way, it is a subsidiary of the charity that undertakes certification. What this means, is that any surplus income that is made from certifying goods, is given to Soil Association charity for its campaigns. While seeing a stamp of approval from Soil Association on a product gives confidence to consumers that what they are getting is a genuine organic product, it is a small part of what they do. They are looking for workable solutions in farming that will sustain our growing population yet support biodiversity and animal welfare. Food for life partnership is working on changing food culture by focusing on working with schools to teach the importance of well sourced ingredients, and reconnecting with where our food comes from, how it is grown. Soil association also provides technical support to farmers and businesses.

 

Where does beauty come in? Well if you think about it, natural skincare is made with ingredients that come from plants, fruits and vegetables (mainstream products also use them of course). So the same concerns of sustainability, and how things are grown, that are applied to our food in terms of how farming affects the surrounding environment, will also apply to the plants that are used in skincare. It takes about 60 roses to make just one drop of essential oil, so you can imagine how growing roses for the beauty industry could impact soil, bee and butterfly populations, dependending on how they are being looked after.

 

While legal standards are quite clear that you can't put an organic claim on food without certification, there is no such law protecting beauty (although the advertising standards should technically take care of this, beauty industry is filled with so many grey areas, and the lack of a legal definition of what constitutes organic beauty makes it even harder). Soil Association organic beauty and health standard launched in 2001, so in the history of the organisation, beauty is still a relatively new development. The first (and oldest) certified brand is Neal's Yard remedies, and the first brand to have its entire product line certified was Spiezia.

In order to get some standardisation across different organic beauty certification organisations, Soil association joined up with a few other European certifying bodies to create Cosmos, beauty products under this new standard have been appearing on the shelves since 2011.

So what's all the fuss with Organic September? Soil association are holding a series of events and are encouraging to try small changes through out the month to support the organic industry. Organic beauty week is happening between 14-21 of September, during which they are introducing their Campaign for clarity, to encourage brands to be transparent about the organic content of their products, and fight for a better understanding of organic and what it means in beauty. To join in on the conversation on social media: #OrganicSeptember through out the month, and #Campaign4Clarity during the organic beauty week.

 

 

 

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