Garden Organic conference to cover certification

Conference explores industry scheme for consistent labelling of products to offer consumers a more informed choice.

Today's (13 May) Garden Organic conference will assess whether there is an industry appetite for certifying and measuring sales of organic gardening products for the first time.

The charity's chief executive Myles Bremner said research earlier this year with Gardening Which revealed confusion among consumers about sustainable claims on gardening product labels.

At the conference, which features as speakers two retailers, one supplier, two journalists and several academics and consultants, delegates will discuss whether organic products are good for sales, given that overall UK organic sales fell 5.9 per cent to £1.73bn in 2010, according to accreditation body the Soil Association.

Bremner said a "mechanism to differentiate between organic and non-organic" could be desirable. "Garden Organic is not a certifying company but after discussion there might be a role for us. If that was something that the industry wanted and supported, we would work out how it would be resourced and managed."

He said a voluntary scheme may be first step. "This is an opportunity for big chains and independents. Is there an appetite for a consistent approach to labelling what is a sustainable garden product? At the moment there is no industry-accepted norm."

Bremner said the industry was "choice editing": "Any retailer has an opportunity to decide what they put on their shelves". The conference will be a free discussion around what sustainability means across the supply chain.

"A slight frustration is at the same time as the increase in grow you own and people taking up gardening there is a corresponding rise in use of weedkillers and peat," he added. "We know consumers want to make better informed choices from an environmentally-sound perspective."

Bremner suggested that products such as the Fiskars weed-puller could replace weedkillers. "Nor do we see a place for peat in the organic garden," he said, adding that he wanted bans brought forward - amateur in 2016, public procurement in 2013 and professional in 2020.

Garden Industry Manufacturers' Association director Neil Gow said: "Certification is something we're going to have to do. It is better that the industry is proactive rather than having this forced on us, be it Garden Organic, the Government, EU or pesticide regulators. It's better the industry is in control."

KEY STAT

Value of the UK organic market in 2010 - down by 5.9 per cent on the previous year - £1.73bn.


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