New draft of the amendment to the EU Organic Regulation to follow shortly
by Redaktion (comments: 0)
In April there is to be a new basis for discussion of the EU Organic Regulation. The current draft by the EU Commission, that has been on the table since December 2005, has been severely criticised in many parts of Europe. The specialist organic world was united in agreement that many formulations were not clear and precise enough, and that the current concept of “organic” might even be thrown overboard. Now the Austrian Presidency has reacted and is going to present a new draft in the next few weeks.
Picture: the very modern symbol of the EU Parliament
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This development was made known at a meeting arranged by the European Greens and the IFOAM EU Group. At the conference on Monday afternoon in Brussels (27.3.2006), all the arguments pro and contra the new version of the Organic Regulation 2092/91 and associated regulations were discussed in one of the conference rooms in the EU Parliament. Around 60 participants had travelled to Brussels from all over Europe either to express their anger or to find out what changes might be in the offing. The Commissioner for Agriculture, Mariann Fischer Boel, had been invited but, regrettably, did not come in person. She was replaced by Commission representative Sivenas. However, several colleagues from the Commission and the Presidency of the Council were present so that the message and the standpoint of the organic industry, the so-called stakeholders, must have registered with the EU bureaucracy. Sivenas, who did not arrive until the end of the meeting, stressed: “We only want the best for the organic industry, because this method of production brings with it so many advantages.” (Picture: Francis Blake, IFOAM EU group/Soil Association)
Karl Plsek from the Austrian Ministry of Health spoke on behalf of the current Austrian Presidency towards the end of the meeting, that once again had underlined in contributions from the floor and from the podium the arguments propounded over recent weeks. He announced that a new draft would be submitted at the “beginning of April” to the Council of the European Union which would contain “far reaching changes and re-formulations of the text”. Ultimately this body, representing all EU member states, will decide the nature of the legal basis of the organic movement and not the EU Commission that put forward the draft that has caused so much controversy.
Isabelle Peutz, head of the department responsible for organic agriculture in the EU Commission, emphasised that quality must come before speed and that the highest possible demands made of the organic agricultural industry should be retained. However, these requirements, for example in animal protection, would have to be adhered to in practice by all organic farmers.
At the meeting in Brussels, attended principally by the various national organic farming organisations, umbrella organisations and regulatory bodies, there was amazement that the new EU Commission’s draft of the Organic Regulation had not incorporated tried and tested formulations of the regulation successfully introduced 15 years ago. Thus, one of the key critical issues was the legal protection of the organic concept. Up to now, the regulation has embraced not only the use of the words “bio“, “ecological” and “organic” but also the corresponding expectation. On this basis, a clear definition of bio has emerged in the last decade and a half that has been successfully defended in court.
In the case of imports from third countries, the representatives said that clear and reliable rules also existed already in the form of the IFOAM standards and IOAS. So they found it incomprehensible that the Commission’s draft contained the less precise rules of the Codex Alimentarius.
The conference was organised and led by Marie-Helene Aubert, the reporter of the European Parliament on the Organic Regulation, and by Hannes Lorenzen, a German colleague among the European Greens. The Italian Green Member of Parliament, Monica Frassoni, had opened the international meeting.
The Green European Member of Parliament and organic farmer, Friedrich-Wilhelm Gräfe zu Baringdorf (picture), considered it problematic that the criteria for organic farming in Europe were to be weakened. “And the scope for decision making by the Executive is worrying, too”, this experienced EU politician declared. Andrea Ferrante from the Italian Farmers’ Association AIAB criticised the 0.9 % threshold that is to be permissible in future for GMO. “The consumer expects that there will not be any genetically modified substances at all in organic products,” he stated. Mr. Ferrante went on to say that a clear and unequivocal liability regulation had to be introduced Europe-wide so that anyone responsible in the event of damage or loss had to pay. Juliette Leroux from the French umbrella organisation FNAB demanded the right to continue in future to be allowed to go beyond the EU minimum standard and to make this known. The point made in reply by Commission representative Sivenas was that this would still be possible but that it had to be verifiable. Elke Röder (picture below) from BNN Manufacture and Trade (BNN Herstellung und Handel) feared that implementation of the Commission’s draft would undermine confidence and lead to stagnation of the organic industry. (Picture: (Bild: Hannes Lorenzen, Isabelle Peutz, Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf)
Although the IFOAM EU group is present in Brussels as the responsible international partner, Francis Blake (Standards and Technical Director Soil Association, President of the IFOAM EU Regional Group) was annoyed by the organisation not being involved in preparing the amendment of the Organic Regulation: “The organic movement as the real owner of the organic idea feels it has been excluded from decision making.” His demand for the future: not only all those associated with the procedure should be continuously included, i.e. there should be active stakeholder involvement and extra stakeholder consultation, but also regular meetings to consult representatives of the organic industry should be held. In his opinion, this applied not just to the drawing up of the amendment to the Organic Regulation but also to the formulation of annexes and possible regulations on implementation. (Picture: Otto Schmid/IFOAM EU Group, Elke Röder/BNN, Karl Plsek/Austrian agricultural administration)
All the people gathered in Brussels were in complete agreement when Mr Blake stated in conclusion that the current timescale, whereby the amended Organic Regulation would be passed by 1 July, should be abandoned, so that a legal basis acceptable to everyone in Europe could be worked out without time pressure. He said that basically one could not imply that the Commission’s intentions were bad - IFOAM too had asked for a revision - but the foundations of organic agriculture, processing and trade in the future had to be laid by all parties working together. Francis Blake praised the amendment: “The new structure is easier to understand because it begins with ideas and principles and is intended to standardize.” But he was critical as well: “While recognising the good intentions, we have our doubts too and we would like to be a part of the process in a realistic timeframe.” (Picture: Nikiforos Sivenas, Alois Posch, Marco Schlüter, Hannes Lorenzen)
As the organisers of the event, the Greens and the IFOAM EU-Group were very pleased with the broad participation from the organic industry. The meeting in the EU Parliament’s building, that gave representatives of the industry a platform for exchanging opinions, was also conducted in exemplary fashion. Simultaneous interpreting in seven languages enabled everyone to have his say in a familiar language. Participants came from thirteen countries: Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, Denmark and Switzerland.