Tuesday, 28 November 2017

New EU regulation on organic farming

The Proposal for a new Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products was approved by the Agricultural Committee of the EU Parliament on 22nd November.

Organic farming in the EU has increased rapidly over the last years, yet it only represents 6% of the total EU agricultural area (see the background note of the EU Parliament). Therefore, the European Commission wishes to further encourage organic farming in order to reduce the need for imported organic products and increase consumer confidence in the EU. For that reason, the decision was taken to repeal and replace the previous Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 so that the legal framework better corresponds to the changing needs of the sector.

Organic farming plays a dual role, both in meeting the increasing consumer demands for organic products and in promoting sustainable farming. The aim of the new Regulation is to balance promoting sustainable organic farming with the internal market meaning promoting consumer interests as well as the interests of EU farmers.

Some of the key changes introduced by the new Regulation include that in the future imported organic goods will have to comply with EU rules on organic products rather than equivalent standards. The stricter standards for imported goods are meant to translate to increase consumer confidence in organic produce. That rule will apply after 2025, following a transitionary period of 5 years.

Avoiding contamination of organic food from pesticides is another important issue as farmers will have to take precautions. Still it will be allowed for farms to combine conventional and organic production provided the two activities are clearly separated. Furthermore, measures will be taken to boost organic production, such as increasing supply of organic food and animals and making it easier for small farms to get organic certification.

The new Regulation is designed to deliver an increased level of consumer trust by ensuring the high quality of products as well as improve the clarity of the information provided to consumers about organic products, in a market where consumers have high expectations.

Yet, the new Regulation, and the benefits it can deliver for consumers, will be only as good as its enforcement. The EU Parliament has been crucial in ensuring that the enforcement procedures are not undermined. It secured that organic farming had its own rules on controls rather than centralising them as the EU Commission envisioned. Furthermore, controls will not be limited to the final product but will happen all throughout the production cycle. 

If the EU Commission is serious about increasing consumer confidence in organic products it needs to be vigilant in supervising the control bodies that offer accreditation.

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