The UK's leading organic promoter The Soil Association, has published an open letter on its website to Anna Ross, the author of a report on the UK's organic food market which it was claimed to have suppressed because the findings were allegedly unfavourable.
"We would like to set the record straight as no information, let alone a report, has been 'suppressed'," said the association's head of communications, Adrian Long. "This false allegation has caused some controversy which is disappointing - and unnecessary."
The Soil Association said in the letter that it had not asked Ross to write a report, only a 500-word article on the state of the UK organic market for publication in Living Earth, the association's magazine. "We decided, as editors do every day of the week with the work of commissioned freelancers, not to publish in its entirety the 500-word article in the form in which it was written," the letter states.
The letter continued: "We intend to use material you [Ross] have prepared within other work that will appear in this and future editions of the magazine. It is likely that material will also be placed on our web site. Hardly suppression..."
The claim that the article had been suppressed came in the British newspaper Independent on Sunday on 20 January after Ross told journalists that the article was not being published, the association claims. "It is fairly obvious that a newspaper would write the story in the way they did, particularly if you did not tell them that no final decision had been made on how/where/when the work you had done would be used by the Soil Association - thereby giving the paper the impression that the work had been sat on."
Ross was then accused of claiming ignorance of the slant taken by the Independent, and a subsequent article by the Daily Mail which purports to have spoken directly to her. "I find it difficult to reconcile your statement [of ignorance] with the reality of the quotes attributed to you in the Daily Mail. Were the quotes in the Daily Mail inaccurate? If so, have you asked for a correction? Did they print tables from your report without your permission?" the letter asks.
Ross is said to have claimed that the association was "too busy trying not to upset the supermarkets", a statement which the association firmly denies. "Yes we do have relationships with supermarkets. It would be irresponsible for us not to," Long said in the letter. "As over 80 per cent of British households shop in supermarkets, and the supermarkets account for 80 per cent of organic sales, we have a duty to attempt to influence their attitudes to the organic market - particularly the need to ensure that supermarkets are not given the green light to drive organic prices down still further and place in jeopardy the long term future of organic farmers and growers."
He continued: "You, however, give the impression that we do little else but work with supermarkets. This is not true." The Association in fact works closely with a range of individuals and organisations in the UK organic sector to promote local food.
Long concluded: "Despite the difficulties that we have encountered over the past fortnight, it is our intention to use your work and to pay you the fee originally agreed for it. We intend to act in a straightforward and honourable way and would hope for your support in correcting any impression that may have been formed that we have not."