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26 March 2014|News,Organic

Commission proposals for new rules for organic farming


The European Commission has published new proposals for a new Regulation on organic production and the labelling of organic products. Consumer and producer concerns are at the heart of this new proposal, which seeks to address shortcomings of the current system.

The EU organic market has quadrupled in size over the last 10 years and rules need to be updated and adjusted so that the sector can further develop and respond to future challenges.

Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Ciolos, said today: "The future of the organic sector in the EU depends on the quality and integrity of the products sold under the European organic logo. The Commission is looking for more and better organic farming in the EU by consolidating consumer confidence in organic products and removing obstacles to the development of organic agriculture. This package is good for consumers and good for farmers. Consumers will have better guarantees on organic food made and sold in the EU and farmers, producers and retailers will have access to a larger market, both within and outside the EU". "

The proposal focuses on three main objectives: maintaining consumer confidence, maintaining producer confidence and making it easier for farmers to switch to organics. The aim is that organic farming remains close to its principles and objectives, so that public demands in terms of environment and quality are met.

The proposal, which will now be submitted to the European Parliament and to the Council, builds on the findings of a broad consultation process that started in 2012 and which included a series of hearings with EU and international experts on organic production. A public consultation carried out in 2013 met a strong interest from the public (with 45 000 replies, mostly from "consumers" rather than "producers"). It highlighted the public's concerns with environmental and quality issues and showed a clear demand for strengthened and more uniform organic rules throughout the EU.

What is organic production and how does it fit in the Common Agricultural Policy?

Organic production is a system of farm management and food production that combines best environmental practices, a high level of biodiversity, the preservation of natural resources and the application of high production standards in line with the demand of a growing number of consumers for products produced using natural substances and processes. Organic production thus plays a dual societal role, where it, on the one hand, provides for a specific market responding to consumer demand for organic products and, on the other hand, delivers publicly available goods contributing to the protection of the environment, as well as to rural development.

The EU's organic scheme is part of the Union's agricultural product quality schemes, which include geographical indications and traditional specialities guaranteed. Compliance with high health and environmental standards in the production of organic products is intrinsic to the high quality of those products.

How important is organic production in the EU today?

Consumer spending on organic food products amounted to €20.9 in 2012 (and €19.7 billion in 2011). There are more than 186 000 organic farms across Europe, cultivating an area of 9.6 million hectares, i.e. 5.4% of the total agricultural area in the European Union (EU). Figures show that organic holdings are generally bigger than conventional farms in the EU and their managers are younger. Permanent pasture represents the biggest share of the organic area (about 45%), followed by cereals (around 15%) and permanent crops (about 13%). Besides poultry, which registers the highest number of animal organic heads, the rest of organic livestock is led by sheep (46%) and bovines (30%) at European level.

Why a reform of the current policy?

The overall objective of the EU political and legislative framework is the sustainable development of organic production. While the organic market has increased fourfold and organic farming in the EU is expected to develop in line with market developments, the EU organic land area has only doubled in the last 10 years. However, neither internal supply, nor the legislative framework have kept up with this market expansion. This risks limiting both the expansion of the organic market and the environmental benefits associated with organic farming.

Production rules will be strengthened and harmonised by removing various derogations and exceptions in the current rules. Sufficient transitional arrangements will be provided so that farmers can adapt to the new rules, for example on genetic input transitional measures will be provided for all organic farmers and aquaculture producers (relating to seeds, livestock and fish juveniles)

Organic agricultural holdings will have to be entirely managed in compliance with the requirements applicable to organic production and retroactive acknowledgement of the conversion period is not possible any more.

Organic operators other than farmers, aquaculture or seaweed producers, will be required to develop a system for improving their environmental performance. Micro-enterprises will be exempted from this new requirement in line with the Commission's policy to reduce their regulatory burden as much as possible.

Last but not least, specific production rules are brought together in an Annex to the proposed Regulation, thus making the legislation easier to read and to understand.

Control systems – what will change?

The risk-based approach to official controls is reinforced by removing the requirement for a mandatory annual physical verification of compliance of all operators.

A system of group certification is introduced for small-scale farmers in the EU to reduce inspection and certification costs and the associated administrative burden, strengthen local networks, contribute to better market outlets, and ensure a level playing field with operators in third countries where group certification is allowed. This is intended to help and encourage more small farmers join the EU's organic scheme.

The proposal requires all operators along the organic chain to be submitted to the control system. Currently it is possible for certain retailers to be exempted from controls. This exemption is used very widely.

Specific provisions are introduced to increase transparency with regard to fees that may be collected for the controls, to enhance traceability and fraud prevention and to harmonise action to be taken when non-authorised products or substances are detected.

Trade in organics – what will change?

The trade regime is adapted to improve the level playing field for the organic operators of the European Union and in Third Countries and to better ensure consumer confidence. The possibility of equivalence agreements with Third Countries remains, while the system of unilateral equivalency is phased out.

The recognition of control bodies is proposed to be progressively shifted to a compliance regime, meaning that imported products will have to comply with the single set of EU production rules.

Why a new Action Plan?

A new Action Plan is necessary to support the growth of the organic farming sector and the challenges of production and demand. Therefore, it is essential to guarantee the added value in terms of production and the credibility of the scheme for consumers. The Action Plan focuses on three priority domains: competitiveness of European organic producers, consolidation of consumer confidence in the European organic rules, and the reinforcement of the external dimension of EU organic production.

What were the main outcomes of the consultations?

The respondents to the public consultation are concerned mainly with environmental and quality issues. They would like the European organic rules to be strengthened and wish to have uniformity of organic rules for farmers and other operators throughout the Union. Therefore the majority are in favour of putting an end to the exceptions to the rules.

High expectations were expressed as regards residues of products and substances that are not authorised for use in organic production. Consumers expect organic products to be free of pesticide residues.

The organic logo of the European Union was ranked equal to national logos as a means of recognising organic products.

The majority of citizens and stakeholders trust the organic control system while considering that it could be improved, mainly by introducing electronic certification.

What were the conclusions of the Impact Assessment study?

The impact assessment concluded that the preferred option for the future EU organic policy framework was the so-called principle-driven option. This option aims at re-focussing organic production on its basic principles and objectives of contributing to the integration of environmental protection requirements into the CAP, and promoting sustainable agricultural production.

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