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Friday, January 03, 2003

The Fairtrade mark is to be extended to UK produce under a pilot scheme announced by the Soil Association, a UK organic farmers' group, and the Fairtrade Foundation today [click here for press release].

The one-year pilot scheme will combine organic and Fairtrade certification for British and imported foods, including UK potatoes, beef, bacon, sausages and pork. Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation said, "Consumers want their food produced in ways that are truly sustainable to people and the environment. This is why it makes sense for the Fairtrade Foundation and the Soil Association to work together through their established assurance schemes so that consumers can trust the claims that are made by companies."

Under Fairtrade standards, businesses must pay farmers a fair price for their produce (i.e., cover the sustainable cost of production and include a margin for profit and investment) and also make a contribution to social and environmental development - for example, by providing for staff training, encouraging public access to farmland and setting up recycling projects.

Fairtrade is primarily aimed at giving a better deal to producers in developing countries. However, farmers in the UK are also suffering from poor prices for their produce, partially owing to supermarkets' tough trading practices. Organic farmers, while enjoying the growing demand for their produce, are losing out through rejection of imperfect goods by supermarkets [click on The Guardian for full report]. One possible solution is to introduce a double pricing structure where shoppers pay less for cosmetically imperfect produce.

There are currently about 100 imported Fairtrade food products sold in the UK. The Co-op supermarket chain was the first to bring such products into the mainstream market by making all its own-brand chocolate Fairtrade last November.