Soil Association

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Soil Association
Legal status
FocusOrganic movement
  • Spear House, 51 Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6AD
Area served
United Kingdom
MethodCampaigning and certification
Key people

The Soil Association is a British registered charity, working to transform the way Britain eats, farms and cares for the natural world.[3] It was established in 1946.[4] Their activities include campaigning for local purchasing, public education on nutrition and certification of organic foods, and against intensive farming.[5]


The Haughley experiment[edit]

Lady Eve Balfour (niece of former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour) was one of the first women to study agriculture in a British university. She and her sister Mary bought New Bells Farm at Haughley Green in Suffolk and started the Haughley Experiment, trialling different types of farming techniques to compare chemical and organic farming.[6]

The Haughley experiment was the first formal, side-by-side farm trial to compare organic and chemical-based farming.[7][8][9] It was based on an idea that farmers were over-reliant on fertilizers, that livestock, crops and the soil should be treated as a whole system and that "natural" farming produced food which was in some way more wholesome than food produced with more intensive methods.[10] Lady Balfour believed that humanity's future and human health were dependent on how the soil was treated, and ran the experiment to generate scientific data that would support these beliefs.[11]

Lady Balfour then published results in 1943 in her book The Living Soil. Reprinted numerous times, it became a founding text of the emerging organic food and farming movement and of the Soil Association.[12]

Founders' meeting[edit]

Lady Eve Balfour, Friend Sykes and George Scott Williamson organized a founders' meeting for the Soil Association on 12 June 1945 and about a hundred people attended.[13][14] The association was formally registered on 3 May 1946,[15] and in the next decade grew to over 4,000 members.[16]

It was also founded in part due to concerns over intensive agriculture and in particular the use of herbicides. British Union of Fascists member Jorian Jenks, who was closely associated with Oswald Mosley, was one of the founders. Following Jenks' death in 1963, the association tilted towards the left of the political spectrum, especially under the new president, Barry Commoner.[17]

The association was one of the five bodies which in Versailles in 1972 formed the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements to act as the umbrella organisation to advocate for organic farming.[18]


Former campaigns by the association include the following areas:

  • intensive pesticide use
  • neonicotinoid pesticides
  • deregulation of gene editing
  • megafarming
  • agroecology
  • welfare of farm animals
  • ultra-processed foods
  • healthy school meals
  • labelling of beauty products

The association takes part in industry and trade events, as well as offering training days.

Twenty-first century[edit]

Campaigner Alastair Sawday was vice-chairman of the association between 2005 and 2007.[19]

As of 2023, Wiltshire farmer Helen Browning is the chief executive;[20] broadcaster Monty Don was president from 2008 to 2016.[21] Honorary vice-presidents include Jonathan Dimbleby, George McRobie, and Charlotte Mitchell. King Charles III is a royal patron.[20]


The association certifies organic products in farming, food processing, restaurants and catering, fisheries, textiles and leather, and health and beauty products.[22] Its subsidiary Soil Association Certification Ltd is approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.[23] It sets standards for packaging, animal welfare, wildlife conservation, residues and additives.[24] Since 2008 its standards have excluded nanomaterials.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Soil Association Limited, Charity number: 206862. The Charity Commission of England and Wales. Accessed December 2021.
  2. ^ Charity Details: Soil Association Ltd, SC039168. Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. Accessed December 2021.
  3. ^ ‘’Official website’’
  4. ^ The Soil Association Limited, Charity number: 206862; Governing document. The Charity Commission of England and Wales. Accessed December 2021.
  5. ^ "Our history". Soil Association. Archived from the original on 27 March 2012. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  6. ^ ‘’Green History website’’
  7. ^ White, Kim Kennedy; Duram, Leslie A (2013). America Goes Green: An Encyclopedia of Eco-friendly Culture in the United States. California: ABC-CLIO. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-59884-657-7.
  8. ^ "LADY EVE BALFOUR". IFOAM. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  9. ^ Balfour, Lady Eve. "Towards a Sustainable Agriculture—The Living Soil". Canberra Organic Growers Society Soil And Health Library. IFOAM. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  10. ^ "The Haughley Experiment". Nature. 179 (4558): 514. 1957. Bibcode:1957Natur.179T.514.. doi:10.1038/179514d0. ISSN 0028-0836. S2CID 4197385.
  11. ^ Gordon, Ian R. (2004). Reproductive technologies in farm animals. Wallingford, Oxfordshire: CABI Pub. ISBN 0-85199-049-5. OCLC 58547418.
  12. ^ "Lady Eve Balfour". Theberton and Eastbridge Parish Council (onesuffolk). Archived from the original on 13 January 2016. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  13. ^ Conford, Philip. (2001). The Origins of the Organic Movement. Floris Books. p. 252. ISBN 978-0863153365
  14. ^ Lockeretz, William. (2018). Organic Farming: An International History. CABI. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-85199-833-6
  15. ^ Paull, John (2009). "The Living Soil Association: Pioneering Organic Farming and Innovating Social Inclusion" (PDF). Journal of Organic Systems. 4 (1): 15–33.
  16. ^ Conford, Philip & Holden, Patrick (2007), "The Soil Association", in Lockeretz, William (ed.), Organic Farming: An International History, Oxfordshire, UK & Cambridge, Massachusetts: CAB International (CABI), pp. 187–200, ISBN 978-0-85199-833-6, retrieved 10 August 2010 ebook ISBN 978-1-84593-289-3
  17. ^ Macklin, Graham (2007). Very deeply dyed in black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the resurrection of British fascism after 1945. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-284-4.
  18. ^ Paull, John (2010). "From France to the World: The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)" (PDF). Journal of Social Research & Policy. 1 (2): 93–102.
  19. ^ "Alastair Sawday: the green travel pioneer". The Simple Things. 25 October 2013. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  20. ^ a b "Our people". Soil Association. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  21. ^ "Monty Don: 'I like dogs because they are not humans'". The Guardian. 11 December 2016.
  22. ^ ‘’Official website’’
  23. ^ "[Withdrawn] Organic certification: List of UK approved organic control bodies". 29 January 2021.
  24. ^ Official website
  25. ^ Paull, John (2011) "Nanomaterials in food and agriculture: The big issue of small matter for organic food and farming", Proceedings of the Third Scientific Conference of ISOFAR (International Society of Organic Agriculture Research), 28 September - 1 October, Namyangju, Korea., 2:96-99.

Further reading[edit]

  • Conford, Philip (2001), The Origins of the Organic Movement, Floris Books, ISBN 0-86315-336-4
Sayre, Laura (4 March 2004), Review: The Origins of the Organic Movement, Rodale Institute, retrieved 14 August 2010 (provides useful overview and commentary on the book's contents).

External links[edit]

Video clips[edit]