Organic produce flown to the UK will be stripped of its organic status if it does not meet ethical trade standards, the Soil Association has said.

Companies sending organic food by air must now show that trade brings real benefit to developing world farmers, in an effort to balance the importance of the organic market for developing countries against concerns over increasing CO2 emissions.

“It is neither sustainable nor responsible to encourage poorer farmers to be reliant on air freight, but we recognise that building alternative markets that offer the same social and economic benefits as organic exports will take time,” said Anna Bradley, chair of the Soil Association's Standards Board.

The move comes despite a warning from international development minister Gareth Thomas earlier this week that restrictions could “penalise the very people it helps”.

The International Trade Centre criticised the Soil Association's decision. “UK consumers want healthy, environmentally sustainable foods,” said executive director Patricia Francis. “Organic products from developing countries satisfy this demand. Their demands will not be met if the wrong arguments are used to infer that air-freighted organic products are more harmful to the environment than home-grown products.”