EU Organic Regulation

Current state of play

A first read through of the whole proposal for a new EU organic regulation was concluded in October, resulting in the Italian Presidency presenting a compromise text, but no agreement was reached in the Council meeting in December. In its final report before handing over to the Latvians the Italian Presidency included some political guidelines for key outstanding issues and the Latvian Presidency continuous to work on a compromise text which will be examined in March. At the same time the European Parliament is currently discussing the draft in the committee stage, followed by plenary in May. If compromise positions can be reached, formal trilogue negotiations involving the Council, Commission and EU Parliament are expected to start in June 2015.

European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan promises a fresh look

On the opening day of Biofach the world’s leading organic fair, the new European Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, promised a fresh look and a new, solutions-oriented approach in his keynote address to the opening ceremony. Later that day, EU policymakers and organic stakeholders met at the EU Policy Day organised by IFOAM EU & BioFach, to discuss the future of the organic regulation. The message from the organic movement is clear: Organic is the only sustainable food and farming concept regulated at EU level and despite ongoing financial crisis still shows continuous growths in Europe. The organic regulation must therefore support the dynamic development of the sector and not threaten its growth.

Policy makers echoed the sector demand to find constructive solutions: Key EU policymakers repeated their commitment to listen to the sector’s needs. European Parliament rapporteur, Green MEP Martin Häusling, stated: “We don’t want a complete revision of the EU organic regulation, but a reform that will work in practice. This is our ambition in the Parliament.” Armands Krauze, Parliamentary Secretary of Ministry of Agriculture and Latvian Member of Parliament, restated the importance of a growing organic sector in Europe because it contributes to the delivery of the goals of the Latvian Council Presidency – sustainability, competitiveness and growth.

“However, we must remember that it´s not only about deciding on the political questions. We also must ensure that in the end there is a technically sound regulation that also simplifies the daily life for operators. At the moment, it seems that EU institutions underestimate the time needed to ensure this. IFOAM EU has offered its expertise to help get this right. But it is not possible to achieve this by June 2015,” said Sabine Eigenschink, IFOAM EU Vice President.

Per Kølster, Chairman of Organic Denmark said “the quality of the final proposal is of critical importance and this must not be compromised in the interests of speed.” He also emphasised that the sector must look to the future and think how standards could reach higher to take account of new issues and new concerns.
“It is good that the Commission has acknowledged the problems with their proposal” stated Christopher Stopes, IFOAM EU President, “There are IFOAM EU solutions on the table. We take up the offer from the EU institutions to deliver concrete solutions and are eager to continue the work with them on the practical way forward.”

Defra industry consultation on 30th January 2015

The following key outstanding issues were discussed in the hearing at Defra, to inform the UK negotiating position, attended by various stakeholders from the UK organic movement round the table and on the phone.

  • Regarding the trade regime it was suggested that it would be desirable to maintain some reference to the concept of equivalency rather than full compliance in recognition of the fact that the agroecological conditions vary considerably around the world; evolving regional standards (eg. In East Africa) should also be recognised. Defra has submitted an alternative proposal on trade to the Latvian Presidency.
  • Among participants there were serious concerns that the proposed de-certification thresholds for non-authorised substances remain unworkable and would change the emphasis of the organic regulation from process-based to being product-based. This effectively contradicts the polluter pays principle. It was suggested that a harmonised European approach using trigger points for investigations would be more acceptable.
  • The views regarding the proposed inclusion of retailers of pre-packed products in the control regime were more mixed, with some arguing that the current exemption should be maintained, whilst others considering registration with the opportunity for some risk-based controls a potential way forward. The use of a risk based approach to certification was preferable so that those with a low risk could be exempt.
  • No agreement was reached regarding a proposed definition for who would qualify for group certification and Defra would welcome further views, for example regarding average turnovers of small farmers and growers that could help to define a potential threshold.
  • The suggestion to remove the obligation to have an environmental management system for non-farming operators was welcomed.
  • A number of other more detailed issues were discussed, such as the restriction of an operator to only one control body, the requirement for 95% organic to also apply to organic feeds, some definitions and other exceptional rules.
  • Under any other business it was suggested that Defra should lobby for the removal of the additional origin of raw material labelling requirement, because it has become meaningless and mostly EU/non-EU origin is used.

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