Organic Articles: Fudging The Issue

The Organic Consultancy

Fudging The Issue

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the November 2003 edition of Organic Business.

There is currently much interest in bringing together the fairtrade and organic sectors. Key brands such as Clipper, Green & Black’s and Caf Direct already work successfully in both sectors. Consumers don’t understand why sometimes they have to chose between products which are good for the planet (organic) or good for small farmers (fairtrade). Products that embody both sets of values are popular, and I am currently chairing a Soil Association standards committee to see how we can develop this further.

I was taken aback by a new range of confectionery products on sale in my local Oxfam shop. Called Traidcraft Confections, this range claims to contain the finest fair trade ingredients. But what are these finest fair trade ingredients ? The Vanilla Fudge ingredients list reads “Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Sweetened Condensed Milk, Butter, Salt, Emulsifier (E322, E471) and Flavouring.” There is absolutely no indication as to which of these ingredients is fair traded, or indeed what percentage of the finished product is fair traded. So how does this product differ from a non-fair trade bag of toffees ? It is impossible to tell.

In commercial terms fair trade is showing the sort of impressive year-on-year growth that organic showed a couple of years ago. Launching “fair trade” products such as these runs the risk of sabotaging this growth, as consumers buy in to the proposition but are then disappointed by the reality. The sort of motivated consumer who looks out for fairly traded food is unlikely to be impressed by the presence of hydrogenated fat and of mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids. The organic sector avoided these problems through statutory legislation that covers the entire product, including any non-organic ingredients present.

Fair trade is not defined in law, so product regulation is voluntary.It is not enough for manufacturers to focus on only the fair trade component of their products a holistic approach is essential, since the consumer buys the whole product, not just the fair trade component. The organic sector has pursued this sort of joined-up thinking to great effect. If fair trade wishes to develop the same commercial clout as organic it needs to start exhibiting the same degree of rigour.