The Soil Association has decided against an outright ban on organic food airfreighting, arguing that it would hurt farmers in developing nations.

But after four months of consultation over whether airfreighted produce can have organic status, the SA has decided to force licensees to cut their reliance on air freight and meet tough ethical trading standards.

"Many people are buying goods with our logo. They need to know we are taking standards seriously," said Anna Bradley, independent chair of the SA's Standards Board. "Air freight is a major contributor to carbon emissions and it's set to grow in the future. If we don't take action the problem will worsen.

"Licensees will have to reduce their dependence on airfreight. It's an open question as to whether it's possible to phase it out altogether. But if airfreighting is a core part of your business plan, you wouldn't be able to meet our standard," Bradley added.

Under the proposals it would still be possible for organic produce to travel by air, but only if exporters could prove they were providing tangible benefits for their local communities.

The SA admitted some companies would switch to less onerous organic certification from a competitor, but said it wanted to lead on the issue.

A second consultation will be launched on the details of the proposal next year, with implementation expected in 2009. Licensees would then have two years to comply to the new rules.

In the meantime, the SA said it would look into setting up a mandatory carbon labelling scheme for licensees and has not ruled out carbon traffic lights.

"We're committed to long-term work with the Carbon Trust and British Standards Institute on industry-wide carbon labelling," said Bradley. "But consumers are demanding better information so we want to try and do something in the short-term."