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EU: Council agrees on draft of a new organic regulation

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MEP Martin HäuslingDG Agri (EU) in Brussels explains that new rules were informally agreed by Council′ negotiators in the final trilogue yesterday.

The aim is to increase consumer trust in organic products and unleash the sector′s potential for growth. But many negotiations over the last three years were necessary to find an agreement. Today rapporteur and chief EP negotiator Martin Häusling (Greens/EFA) hold a press conference and reported on the outcome of the negotiations. He said: „After 20 months of negotiations we have managed to reach an agreement, which will help organic sector grow and will increase consumers' trust in organic foodstuffs. It was a laborious task but I believe new rules will bring benefits to both EU consumers and organic farmers“. But if the new regulations should become law in July 2020 all 28 EU member states must also agree. Some stakeholders are in doubt if the new rules are better than the established law.

Rapporteur Martin Häusling explained the Council´s agreement regarding the new regulation:

•    Improving development and access to organic seeds and animals. New sets of rules have been included to improve the accessibility to seeds and plant reproductive material (such as heterogeneous material) adapted to organic farming needs and organic animals with a view to end derogations for allowing the use of conventional material and animals within 15 years.
•    Improved controls on imports of organic products via application of uniform standards. After a transitional period allowing producers in third countries to adapt, our consumers can expect the same uniform standards to be enforced for products from third countries.
•    On pesticide residues in organic products, precautionary measures to avoid contamination and fraud can prevent contamination more efficiently and put responsibility on Member States and not only on organic producers. Instead of an automatic decertification of contaminated organic products as originally proposed by the Commission, the Commission must now analyse the cause of contamination before punishing honest famers.
•    The process-based annual control of all organic farms still remains the general rule, with the possibility to have controls every two year for farms with a low-risk profile, but each farm has the right to demand a yearly control if they wish to do so.
•    Soil-related production as a principle with time-limited derogations for Nordic countries. Growing crops in demarcated beds shall continue to be allowed only for those surfaces in Denmark, Finland and Sweden that have been certified as organic before 28 June 2017 and for a maximum period of 10 years.

In detail that means:

•         Strict, risk-based controls along the supply chain that, on Parliament’s insistence, will be on-site and for all operators, at least annually or one every two years if no fraud is found in the last three years.

•         Imports to comply with EU standards: current “equivalence” rules, requiring non-EU countries to comply with similar but not the same standards, will be phased out within five years; to avoid sudden disruption of supply, Commission could, for a renewable period of two years, allow imports of specific products, even if not fully compliant with EU standards (e.g. due to specific climate conditions).

•         Contamination with pesticides: farmers will be obliged to apply precautionary measures to avoid contamination; in case of suspected presence of e.g. a non-authorised pesticide or fertiliser, the final product should not bear the organic label until further investigation; if contamination was deliberate or farmer failed to apply newly introduced precautionary measures, it will lose its organic status.

•         Member states currently applying thresholds for non-authorised substances in organic food, such as pesticides, could continue to do so, if they allow other EU countries’ organic foodstuffs complying with EU rules to access their markets.

Four years after entry into force of this regulation, the Commission would report back on the efficiency of the EU anti-contamination rules and national thresholds and, if need be, come up with a draft law to harmonise them.

To boost EU organic food production:

•         Increasing supply of organic seeds and animals: better data gathering on the availability of organic seeds and animals should increase their supply to meet the needs of organic farmers. Derogations allowing the use of conventional seeds and animals in organic production would expire in 2035, but the end-date could be pushed back or forward, depending on increased availability of organic seeds and animals.

•         Mixed farms: farms producing both conventional and organic food would be allowed on condition that the two farming activities are clearly and effectively separated.

•         Easier certification for small farmers: group certification for small farmers would make their life easier and attract more of them into the organic farming business.



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