Organic farm legal issues

A farmer holing his produce on a sunny day at his organic farm

The agricultural sector is subject to a great deal of legislation, some of which applies to all farms and others which applies only to a specific sector. Comprehensive guidance on farming legislation - including animal health and welfare, the environment, wildlife and so on - is available from:

  • the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in England
  • the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland
  • the Scottish Government Rural Affairs and Environment Department in Scotland
  • the Welsh Government

EU Regulations require you to be registered with a certification scheme which is itself approved by the National Certifying Authority. You will have to follow the regulations laid down by your approved control body (for example the Soil Association). Each body has strict rules governing use of pesticides, fertilisers, medications, livestock welfare and housing and so on. You will be able to obtain information and guidance from your control body. Visit the website for further information and contact details for the control bodies.

What licences does an organic farm need?

Depending on the nature of your farm, you should be aware of the following:

  • if you have more than four adult sheep and are intending to sell the wool, you must be registered with and sell your wool to the British Wool Marketing Board (unless you keep rare breeds that are exempt from this requirement)
  • if you produce milk, under the Food Hygiene Regulations you must be registered in England and Wales by the Food Standards Agency and licensed in Scotland by local environmental health departments and in Northern Ireland by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
  • if you have a sizeable poultry operation, you will be required by the Poultry Breeding Flocks and Hatcheries Order to be registered by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland or the Scottish Government Rural Affairs and Environment Department. This applies to holdings with breeding flocks of 250 or more birds, or hatcheries with incubator capacity of 1,000 or more eggs. In addition, under the Registration of Establishments (Laying Hens) Regulations 2003, you must also register if you have a laying flock of over 350 birds
  • all poultry premises with 50 or more birds must, under the Avian Influenza Regulations 2005, be registered with the Animal & Plant Health Agency. This is in addition to any other registration requirements that may also apply to the flock. If you have less than 50 birds, you are encouraged to register on a voluntary basis
  • if you grow three hectares or more of potatoes per year you must register with AHDB Potatoes (previously the Potato Council) and pay an annual levy (England, Scotland and Wales only)
  • under the Firearms Act (as amended), you must hold a firearms certificate or a shotgun certificate if you have a rifle or shotgun. Certificates are issued by the police, and the chief officer for the area should be contacted for details

Transporting animals

The Welfare of Animals (Transport) Order covers the conditions for transporting animals. If you transport animals as part of your business you must be authorised as an animal transporter. For long journeys (over eight hours), vehicles must have been inspected and approved. Drivers or attendants responsible for transporting animals more than 65km must hold a certificate of competence.

Using labour providers

Agricultural and horticultural businesses that use the services of gangmasters - basic labour providers - are required by law to use only gangmasters that are licensed by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA). More information about gangmaster licensing, including a database of licensed gangmasters, is available on the GLAA website.

Food safety

Food hygiene rules apply to all farmers and growers and if you're producing certain commodities - milk, for example - you'll need to register with the appropriate authority. (This varies, depending on what you produce.)

If you're planning to sell your produce through your own farm shop or at farmers' markets then you'll need to register the premises with the local authority and put in place a HACCP food safety and hygiene system.

If your business will prepare, store and sell food to the public you will need to register with your local environmental health department. They will inspect your premises and help you to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Act. You should contact your local authority early on in your planning so that you register in good time. There is no charge for registering.

The Food Safety Act

All businesses in the food industry must comply with food safety legislation to protect their customers. The Food Safety Act and Food Hygiene Regulations cover all aspects of food preparation, storage and sale. Any staff you employ should be trained in food safety and ideally at least one person should have gained a Food Hygiene qualification.

The legislation requires you to identify any potential hazards or risks to food safety and to put in place control measures in respect of these risks. You should set these controls out in writing to show due diligence and should review them periodically to make sure they are still effective.

You should contact your local environmental health officer (EHO) for guidance on the regulations with which you must comply.

Various helpful publications, including the free Safer food better business pack and Safe catering (Northern Ireland), are available from the Food Standards Agency. You can order publications through the Food Standards Agency publications orderline on 0845 606 0667 or you can visit the Food Standards Agency website.

Health & Safety, fire

You must comply with workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include recruitment, employment contracts, pay, working hours, holidays, employment policies, sickness, maternity, paternity, discrimination, discipline, grievances, dismissals, redundancies and employment tribunals.


Insurance for an organic farm

Contact an insurer and explain exactly how your business will operate - they will then explain what insurance cover you must have by law, and other cover you should consider. This might include:

  • premises and premises contents
  • livestock insurance
  • employers liability
  • third party liability
  • motor insurance (for delivery vehicles)
  • farm vehicle insurance (for tractors, fork lifts, and so on)

NFU Mutual is one of the most popular organisations through which to organise insurance. They, along with other specialist farm insurers, will be able to tailor a policy to fit the needs of your farm.

When comparing insurance quotes, uncover the differences between policies by using an insurance comparison form.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.