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Criticism of the Amendment to the EU-Organic Regulation

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Developments are fast-moving, and the lobbying by the European organic industry has begun to register success in Brussels. Nevertheless, the parties have to stay vigilant at all times if they are to prevent the implementation of the amendment of the EU-Organic Regulation in its present form. Both the IFOAM-EU-Group (the body representing the European organic movement) and BÖLW, the German Association of the Organic Food Industry (the body representing the manufacturers’, processors’ and trade associations), have declared their opposition to the proposals of the EU-Commission.


Bild: Mariann Fischer Boel

On the 21 February, 30 associations were invited to a hearing at the Ministry of Agriculture in Bonn. The meeting dealt with the draft of a framework regulation issued by the EU-Commission shortly before Christmas last year on ‘organic production and the labelling of organic products’ (CNS/2005/0278). If it goes according to plan, the regulation would be passed by the Council of Ministers by June 2006, and on January 1 2009 the new rules, considerably  supplemented, would come into force in their entirety. Those affected by this, and certainly not only the organic industry, are for the most part horrified by the draft. Under time pressure, they are now retaliating. The representatives of relevant groups and the various associations were not involved in the deliberations as the new regulation evolved.


A storm of criticism has erupted from the most diverse quarters ranging from the Farmers’ Association and organic associations to consumer protection bodies, manufacturers and the retail trade. All are obviously in agreement regarding the inadequacy of the draft of the new EU-Organic Regulation. Among others, the legal expert Hanspeter Schmidt (picture)in Freiburg, the farming associations and BÖLW argue that the formulations leave far too much room for interpretation, important points have been omitted and legal clarity has been lost. The IFOAM-EU-Group has called the draft “gravely inadequate”. If the draft were to be passed, many people see the principles of organic farming as fundamentally threatened.


Thomas Dosch (picture), a member of the board of Bioland and a member of the IFOAM-EU-Board, criticises among other things the fact that the main aim of  the draft is to facilitate international trade. Moreover, representatives of the organic movement fear that consumer protection will be massively reduced. The objection of the German Farmers’ Association is that  the draft allows the misleading labelling of pseudo organic products and makes it easier for third-country goods of doubtful origin to be imported.


In detailed statements made as early as December, BÖLW and Bioland expressed their criticism to BMELV (Federal Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection) of a number of proposals that the EU-Commission had made.


Important objections are:


• The authority of the Commission is being extended considerably. Thus, the Commission has the final decision in practically all questions of organic farming. The power of definition in the organic food economy is being transferred totally to an administrative authority.


• Similarly, the regulatory system is being transferred almost in its entirety to the State. The role of the regulatory bodies would be reduced to an administrative function. Their expertise would hardly play any part.


• In the draft decree there are many loosely formulated statements which, however, have far-reaching consequences. The instructions on implementation (annexes), that are essential to assess the effects, still have to be produced - by the EU-Commission!


• There is no mention at all of important aspects of regulation, such as minimum areas for animal sheds and rules governing the use of medicaments.


The lawyer Hanspeter Schmidt and Manon Haccius (responsible for quality, legal matters and service at Alnatura) have analysed the inadequacies of the EU-draft in a nine-page document. They criticise the complete revision of the proven EU-Regulation on organic farming and use a number of examples to demonstrate how the draft militates against  “expert practice at grass roots level and  the aim to reduce bureaucracy.” They state that the current EU-Organic Regulation of June 1991 provides security for both businesses and consumers. The new draft creates uncertainty and generates costs that could be avoided. Schmidt and Haccius  see the good reputation of organic products endangered because the text is so imprecise that at many points it is not possible to see what one’s obligations are. Thus, for example, the clear and comprehensive rejection of GM is not adequately formulated;  the proven principle of  narrowly defined lists of permitted non-organic inputs in organic agriculture is in danger;  the proposed formulation would enable the Commission at its discretion to give permission for the use of practically any substance in organic agriculture, which could gradually undermine its credibility. Both authors emphatically reject the draft and, taking into account the tried and tested framework conditions, call for a systematic revision of the current  regulation, from which some over-regulating passages could be eliminated without sacrificing security. Devoid of a coherent structure, the draft, the new processes, procedures and responsibilities (e.g. the regulatory scheme) - that are not in the least clear - would lead to a host of problems. For this reason, the urgent advice of the experts is to build on the foundation of the existing regulation and, taking well tested current practice into consideration,  to develop a new draft.


Alexander Gerber (picture), managing director of BÖLW, adopts the same critical standpoint as Schmidt and Haccius. Gerber states that BÖLW is also demanding a revision of the current EU-Organic Regulation instead of further work on the new EU-draft. Gerber is confident that the process in Brussels can still be stopped, because above all he considers the timetable for completion of the draft by the summer to be totally unrealistic. In his view, the various players have not been given time to express their opinions on the contents, and it is not the usual practice to involve the affected parties so little in the process.  In the opinion of Ute Rönnebeck, an expert in organic agriculture in the Ministry of Agriculture in NRW, the tight schedule would not allow the new EU-member states in the east in particular to work on the material in sufficient depth.  She is relying on the unity of the Federal States in this case: “The Federal States are confident that in the coming consultations at EU level the Federal Government  will make sure that we do not revert to the situation which existed before the current regulation, achieved after so much effort. The present draft is being critically examined and  taken forward as required by the organic industry.”


The Ministry of Agriculture in Berlin has also indicated its appreciation of the criticisms expressed by the organic industry. Gerd  Müller, Secretary of State in the Ministry, shares the verdict of the associations that the EU-draft is not acceptable. At the hearing in Bonn, Herr Müller stated that simplification should not be at the expense of consumer protection and that a sensible approach would be to develop the current regulation. Thomas Dosch expressed the opinion that the Ministry should be pro-active and fight for the organic industry in Brussels. Even the German Farmers’ Association declared in a press statement after the hearing in Bonn that the proposals in the EU-Commission’s draft would be conducive to considerable loss of competitiveness for organic agriculture in Germany, more bureaucracy would be imposed on farmers, and for years they would be living with legal and planning uncertainty. For this reason, the Farmers’ Association asked the EU-Commission to remove the artificially created time pressure from the reform process and, together with the various players in the economy,  to develop a coherent concept for the  reformed EU-Organic Regulation.


Link to EU-Commission Proposal




Elke Röder (picture) from "BNN Herstellung und Handel" (German Association of Natural Food and Products for Traders and processors): “It is totally incomprehensible why the Commission is showing so little appreciation of the market for organic products that is developing so positively.  At least sufficient time must be given to work out the basic legally binding regulations for organic farming. If we proceed according to democratic principles and on the basis of expert opinion, it will avoid the need to tinker with them later. The pressure created by the timescale imposed by the Commission prevents the thorough discussion that is vitally important from the point of view of BNN Herstellung und Handel because:


1. The draft leaves out essential regulations such as a list of permissible fertilisers and  pesticides. On the other hand, the draft intends to regulate less important points with no connection to the reality of the situation, an example being that bees are allowed to fly only on organic land or over wild vegetation, which would create serious problems for honey production in central Europe.

2. The heading “Flexibility” is supposed to create the possibility of  regional exceptions to the rules of production. This would lead to many different standards acquiring validity, which would make it difficult, even for experts, to compare the quality of different products.

3. The terms “ecological” and “organic” and synonyms will no longer be protected if the Commission has its way. Instead, the term “EU-ecological” is to be prescribed. The result of that would be that types of production other than organic  cultivation could in future be marketed as “organic”. As a result, consumers would be confused.

4.  A further, crucial criticism is the fact that the EU-Commission does not want to determine the fundamental rules for organic agriculture (for example the list of permitted fertilisers and insecticides) at the same time as revising the text of the regulation. It intends to lay down these rules at a later date, by which time we shall, in effect, have missed the boat. These definitions, that are essential for organic farming, are to be laid down at an administrative level. Only officials belonging to the EU-Commission would sit on the committee dealing with this issue. This committee could in theory implement its decisions in opposition to the opinions of 65 % of member states. Thus the draft opens up the possibility of  totally undemocratic procedures that would allow the responsibility for definitions to be transferred from the organic agriculture movement to administrators.

In conclusion a positive aspect: the complete revision creates rules for organic wine production and aquaculture that have hitherto been noticeable by their absence.


Soil Association’s key concerns on the draft revised Regulation:

• Article 3 suggests economic viability of a production system rather than the interests of human health or environmental sustainability as the criteria for judging its acceptability.
It also sets the weak goal for organic production of only minimising negative effects on the environment rather than delivering positive environmental outcomes.

• Article 4 omits any reference to local supply and distribution.

• Article 7 would allow routine GM contamination of organic products up to 0.9%, in line with the desire of the US Government and GM companies to see all our food contaminated with GM.

• Article 18 forces every organic product to carry an EU logo or to say it is 'EU-organic', obscuring local origin and undermining consumers' ability to choose local food.

• Articles 20 and 24 appear to be aimed at restricting what organic farmers and suppliers can tell consumers, especially if their standards are higher than the EU minimum.

• Article 31 gives the Commission increased powers similar to those it exercises with the disastrous GM legislation, where it can override the majority opinion of the member states.



FNAB’s board of directors considers that the following points have to be modified before beginning any constructive work on the document as a whole: “negative” flexibility, the decision-making process and the timeframe.


"Negative" flexibility would not only prohibit member states from doing better than the community rules but would also permit them, within the poorly defined conditions and limits, to do less. Since the basic text lacks precision and has omissions, it is incapable of implementation. We are not prepared to deceive the consumer by proposing a single label for products produced according to widely differing regulations and devoid of transparency. What credibility can there be in the eyes of the public? The impossibility of linking the French AB label (agriculture biologique) to a specific scheme of regulation would lead to its being abandoned and signify the end of "the French organic concept", which the professionals of the sector have been supporting, according to FNAB.


Furthermore, the envisaged decision-making procedure and the administrative regulations contained in the draft represent a dangerous increase in the powers of the European Commission over the evolution of regulating the organic industry and its technical aspects. This would have a damaging effect on the member states in the Community and on the national advisory bodies.
Last but not least, the proposed deadlines for the final vote on the regulations (June 2006) are totally unacceptable. "They do not allow us to engage in a proper process of discussion and consultation with the professionals that would be conducive to well thought out regulations - flexible but rigorous, precise and generally acceptable. We refuse to accept new regulations which have been cobbled together in less than six months" enforces FNAB.


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