12 June 2015
Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
Organic farming is based on a strict set of principles, governed by EU-wide regulations within the EU, which aim to produce high-quality, healthy food with minimal environmental impact. On 24 March 2014 the European Commission published a proposed regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products which would introduce more stringent rules to the sector. This would repeal the existing regulation which governs the certification of organic producers, Council Regulation (EC) 834/2007 (PDF, 190.92KB). The European Commission’s stated aims for the proposal are to reduce the administrative burdens of organic production and improve consumer confidence in organic products. For a more detailed overview of the proposals please see the Research Service EU Policy Update and previous blog post.
The Assembly’s Environment and Sustainability Committee has been carrying out an Inquiry on the proposed regulation as parts of its wider work on European affairs. In evidence to the Committee, stakeholders commended the ethos behind the regulation of improved transparency, however major concerns were expressed regarding the practical implications of the proposal. See our previous blog post for details of the concerns raised.
In January of this year the Committee wrote to the European Parliament and Commission to outline the concerns of Welsh stakeholders ahead of the publication of the European Parliament’s Draft Report. To what extent do the 353 amendments of the newly published Draft Report mirror the Committee’s suggestions? In what follows we outline some of the key areas of contention, the E&S Committee’s recommendations and the amendments put forward by the European Parliament’s Draft Report.
1. Mixed farms- the proposal would prohibit both organic and conventional farming on the same holding
E&S Committee Recommendation: The proposal should be amended so that, where properly inspected and certified, farms can continue to operate both organic and non-organic units.
EP Draft Report: The amendments would maintain the possibility of mixed farming but only for a maximum period of 10 years during conversion.
2. Animal welfare standards- the proposal would prohibit mutilations which lead to stress, harm, disease or suffering of animals
E&S Committee Recommendation: The unintended consequences of some of the proposed animal welfare standards, such as tail docking and dehorning, require proper impact assessment, clear transitional rules and strong supporting measures.
EP Draft Report: Amendments allow tail docking if authorised by the competent authority for reasons of safety or animal and human health. Dehorning of young mammals shall also be allowed if adequate anaesthesia and/or analgesia are applied.
3. Retailer certification- the proposal would require retailers to be subject to certification, removing the current exemption
E&S Committee Recommendation: the Committee calls for this exemption to be kept for small and medium retailers.
EP Draft Report: No changes to the original proposal.
4. Inspections for certification- the proposal would change current annual inspections by moving to a risk-based assessment
E&S Committee Recommendation: Following conflicting opinions from stakeholders the Committee asked for further clarification on the move towards risk-based inspections.
EP Draft Report: The Draft Report sets out a control system built on risk assessment based on an annual audit and on inspection and targeted screening depending on the likelihood of non-compliance. The criteria for risk assessments would be set out in an annex to be defined at a later stage.
5. Regional feed- the proposal requires that all livestock feed – in the case of cattle and sheep, or 60% for pigs and poultry, comes from the farm or ‘region’
E&S Committee Recommendation: There were concerns due to the constraints in Wales making it difficult for organic farmers to produce or source all of their feed from within Wales/UK. More detail on this element was called for.
EP Draft Report: The Draft Report inserts a definition of ‘region’ as ‘NUTS I’ regions (Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics). Wales alone is 1 ‘NUTS I’ region, the UK is made up of 12 ‘NUTS I’ regions.
6. Organic seed and breeding stock- the proposal would prohibit non-organic seed and stock
E&S Committee Recommendation: Conventional seed/breeding stock should be allowed where no reasonable organic alternative exists.
EP Draft Report: The Draft Report sets out an amendment that would aim to stimulate the production and the use of organic seeds and other reproductive materials. It brings forward the date by which the Commission shall present a report to the European Parliament and the Council on the availability of organic plant reproductive material and breeding stock (from 2021 to 2018). However no exemption is given.
7. De-certification- the proposal introduces a residue threshold for contamination and automatic de-certification;
E&S Committee Recommendation: To remove the proposals on de-certification due to the presence of non-organic residues.
EP Draft Report: The Draft Report includes an amendment to remove the proposal which would set out residue thresholds above which products would be decertified as organic. Instead, it is suggests that harmonised procedures should be set up in case of suspicion of non-compliance
The E&S Committee has set out in a letter to the European Parliament that it welcomes some of the amendments put forward in the Draft Report. However it highlights a number of issues for further consideration where it considers that the Draft Report does not sufficiently address the concerns of Welsh stakeholders. It has been speculated (Agrafacts No. 42-15) that the EP Committee vote will not take place until after the summer due to the volume of modifications expected.
EU Agriculture Ministers are moving closer to a common position following talks at the Informal Farm Council in Riga. However delegations remain split on the plan to decertify products automatically following pesticide contamination. The Council are expected to secure an agreement on 16 June 2015 (Agrafacts No.41-15).