The European regulation on organic production and labelling: serious concerns expressed by Welsh stakeholders

5 December 2014

Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

On 24 March 2014 the European Commission published proposals for a Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products repealing the existing Council Regulation (EC) 834/2007.europe-organic

The rationale for the proposals is to reduce the administrative burdens of organic production and to improve consumer confidence in organic products.

The proposals will make changes to the inspection and control system, introduce new animal welfare standards and remove a number of the derogations on non-organic inputs and methods currently allowed. Of significant concern to Wales are the proposals to remove the derogations on: mixed farming (which allow organic and conventional farming on the same holding); the use of non-organic seeds; regional food sourcing; the use of non-organic breeding stock; and the retailer’s exemption. For a more detailed overview of the proposals please see the Research Service EU Policy Update.

The proposals are subject to the ordinary legislative procedure where both the Council and European Parliament have to reach an agreement.

European Parliament

On 3 September 2014 the proposals were assigned to the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee of the European Parliament. Martin Häusling (German Green MEP) was appointed as Rapporteur.

The Council of Ministers

On 10 November during discussions on the proposed regulation in the Council of Ministers, farm Ministers agreed that the EU must retain current derogations that allow mixed farming and organic farmers to use non-organic animals, seeds and feed. A number of Ministers warned that ending the derogations would badly hit the organic sector. AGRAFACTS has reported that Sharon Dijskma (NL), backed by her German counterpart Christian Schmidt, suggested that she would push for the Commission to withdraw its proposal completely if not changed ‘substantially’.

Most delegations were strongly in favour of allowing farmers to continue with mixed farming. Member States were more split on plans to overhaul inspections with some such as France, Finland and Belgium standing by the current system of annual inspections, while others such as Netherlands, Croatia and Sweden preferred the suggested risk-based approach.

Assembly Discussions

On 13 November the Environment and Sustainability Committee held an evidence session on the regulation.

Generally the stakeholders welcomed the Commission’s legislative review and commended the ethos behind the regulation of improved transparency. However major concerns were expressed regarding the details of the implementation with the Soil Association declaring the proposals to be under-developed and ‘naive’.

There was a strong focus on the removal of derogations. Prohibition of mixed farming was a key concern with NFU Cymru stating that around 25% of organic farms within the UK operate on a mixed basis. Another main area of concern was the prohibition of non-organic seeds and the short time-scale within which the ban would take place. NFU Cymru raised concerns that the current volume and availability of organic seeds would be a barrier to organic production. Organic Farmers and Growers highlighted that ending the derogation which currently allows non-organic breeding stocks could significantly limit genetic lines.

The stakeholders were questioned on whether the ‘region’ should operate at a Wales, UK or European scale (the regulation requires that all livestock feed – in the case of cattle and sheep, or 60% for pigs and poultry, comes from the farm or ‘region’, but it does not define ‘region’). Wales Organic Group raised concerns that Wales would be unable to grow sufficient organic protein feed to supply its livestock if the term ‘region’ was defined as Wales or UK only.

Generally the stakeholders agreed that annual inspections were favourable and the proposed reduction of inspections under risk-based assessment would reduce transparency and in some cases would fail to meet retailers’ requirements.

There was also a consensus that decertification following contamination from non-organic residues was unfair and NFU Cymru stated this proposal went against historical rules that the ‘polluter pays’.

In regards to the Commission’s impact assessment, several stakeholders raised concerns about the way the consumer survey was conducted stating that it presented closed questions and had unbalanced participation between Member States.

Organic Centre Wales stated that uncertainty, both in the future of the regulation and the CAP reforms, was dissuading farmers from committing to the new Glastir Organic Scheme.

The Environment and Sustainability Committee intends to write to the European Parliament and Commission to outline the concerns of stakeholders in Wales.