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Research to support revision of the EU Regulation on organic agriculture

Final Report Summary - EEC 2092/91 REVISION (Research to support revision of the EU Regulation on organic agriculture)

Since 1991, organic farming in the European Union (EU) is governed by Regulation (EEC) 2092/9, which sets out the rules for labelling a food product as 'organic' or equivalent terms 'biological' or 'ecological' in other languages. The regulation was a response to growing consumer demands for organic products, building on the experience of governmental standards in several member states (Austria, Denmark, Spain, Finland, and France) and in the private sector.

The result was a legally enforceable and officially recognised common standard for organic crop production, certification, and labelling in the EU, which had to be implemented in all Member States by 1993. In most areas, the production rules were similar to the basic standards of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). The Regulation (EEC) 2092/91 paved the way for organic management options to be included in the EU agri-environment policy support programmes (Regulation (EEC) 2078/92) and through its provisions for imports from non-EU countries has affected organic standards worldwide. In 1999, the regulation was amended by Regulation (EEC) 1804/199 setting out rules for on organic livestock production, a flexibility clause allowing member states to maintain stricter rules on animal production, and a prohibition of genetically modified organisms (GMO) were introduced in 1999. An organic regulation (or private standard) acts as the basis of a virtual contract between the organic producer and the consumer. The organic producer promises to deliver certain ethical values by following the practises set out in the standards, and the consumers receive a guarantee about what to expect from an organic product.

The regulation does not contain an explicit definition; organic farming is defined by the practices rather than the principles and ethical values. Since the introduction, more than 25 amendments have been taken up. In a growing market for organic food, there is concern that the involvement of large companies and global trade will encourage producers to cut corners and forget about the ethical values. The concern that 'conventional' organic farming would be conducted in a more intensive, industrialised fashion and would no longer function effectively as a more sustainable alternative, has resulted in a renewed interest in the values and principles of organic farming.

Private standard-setting organisations and some governments within and outside the EU have long-established organic standards, which in some areas are more detailed and / or more demanding than the EU regulations. Some standard setting bodies aim for stricter rules as a way to differentiate the products carrying their symbol in a growing market. This and the flexibility in relation to livestock have resulted in differences in the implementation of Regulation (EEC) 2092/91 in the Member States and to private standards, which raises concerns about unfair competition and to barriers to the trade.

The European action plan for organic food and farming called for a review of the legal framework with the aim to ensure simplification and overall coherence, to establish principles that encourage harmonisation of standards and, where possible, to reduce the level of detail. Following this, the Regulation (EEC) 2092/91 was reviewed.

This EEC 2092/91 REVISION project was set up to support this revision of the Regulation (EEC) 2092/91. The project began in March 2004 and lasted for 38 month until April 2007 and was therefore ongoing during the first phase of the revision of the EU regulation. A first proposal for a new regulation was published by the European Commission (EC) in December 2005 and was negotiated by a European Council Working Group during 2006. The opinion of the European Parliament was given in May 2007 and the text for a new council Regulation (EEC) 834/2007 has been agreed in June 2007, and is to come into force in January 2009.

'According to the preamble, the main aims of the revised regulation are to ensure fair competition, a proper functioning of the internal market, and to maintain and justifying consumer confidence in products labelled as organic. This should provide conditions under which this sector can progress in line with production and market developments. The new rules set out a complete set of objectives, principles and basic rules for organic production, and include a new permanent import regime and a more consistent control regime. The use of the EU organic logo will be mandatory, but it can be accompanied by national or private logos. The place where the products were farmed has to be indicated to inform consumers. Food will only be able to carry an organic logo if at least 95 percent of the ingredients are organic. But non-organic products will be entitled to indicate organic ingredients on the ingredients list only' (Europa Press release IP/07/807).

The consortium of the EEC 2092/91 REVISION project has made contributions to inform the negotiation process on several issues, such as the integration of objectives and principles based on values and on criteria for the approval of feed ingredients. The final consolidated recommendations are included at the end of this report.

The project organised three workshops with stakeholders and had ongoing communication with the Unit on Organic Farming in DG Agriculture, which is responsible for the organic regulation. Members of the team produced in total more than 250 dissemination items in the form of book chapters, scientific conference papers published in the proceedings, workshop presentations, posters and papers, articles in magazines and newsletters and direct e-mail communications both national languages and in English.

The EEC 2092/91 REVISION project recommended reconsidering the stated intention to transfer the technical content all of the existing annexes of Regulation (EEC) 2092/91 unchanged into new implementation rules, because of some apparent contradictions between current practises and the principles laid down in Title II of Regulation (EC) 834/2007.

The new Regulation (EC) 834/2007 has clear statements on objectives and principles of organic production. This provides the basis for harmonisation of the detailed rules in the light of the core values of organic agriculture. It should be examined carefully, whether some changes to the current rules should be proposed, in particular in relation to the use of external inputs on organic farms with the aim to impose some restrictions on intensification of organic agriculture.

Clear limits for the total use of both organic and non-organic (conventional) sources (manures and fertilisers) and the use of external feed would explicate the core values of a balanced system and self-sufficiency as regards resource use that are expressed in Article 4 a and b of Regulation (EC) 834/2007. The principle of 'imposing restrictions on the use of external inputs' should be applied to both nonorganic and organic inputs in the order mentioned, and the rules for input use and input approval should encourage the 'appropriate design and management of biological processes based on ecological systems' as far as possible.

The current derogations for the use of non-organic feed materials and seeds lead to unfair competition, favouring organic producers that make use of cheaper nonorganic inputs but sell into the same market as organic producers that use only organic inputs. The planned new implementing rules of the European Commission (EC) should encourage operators to use as few inputs as possible and as many as necessary'. Non-organic feed inputs can no longer be considered essential from a health and welfare point of view, so the project recommends that the current derogations for the use of non-organic feed materials should not be extended beyond 31 December 2011. However, the organic sector in Europe needs to be encouraged to continuously produce sufficient feed materials for the organic livestock. Strengthening the linkages between production and use of feed materials and introducing a reporting requirement for feed derogations could help achieving this. Besides, the reporting regime for seed derogation should be improved and harmonised.

Differences between EU Member States in the implementation of the European regulatory framework for organic production and labelling are not just a question of the rules, but arise also because of differences in the interpretation of the rules at inspection/certification body and national authority level. It is recommended to maintain and adapt the internet database on organic standards (please see online) as a tool for increasing the transparency concerning the granting of derogations by the national public and private standards setters, in particular in relation to the flexibility provisions that is foreseen in the newly adopted Council Regulation on organic production EC/834/2007 (Article 22). It is further recommended to introduce new EU-wide basic common rules for special cropping systems, such as protected cropping of vegetables and ornamentals with provisions in relation to energy and resource use, and for permanent crops. It should also be considered to include new implementing rules for care of the environment at the European level in line with the stated objective of 'encouraging processes that do not harm the environment' (Article 3c). This area appears particularly important to European stakeholders and could build on the experience of several national governmental and private standards.

The implementing rules should aim at harmonisation at the international level with the Codex Alimentarius of the Food and Agriculture Organisation / World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) international norms, although the latter two are not directly used for inspection and certification like the Regulation (EEC) 2092/91) and its replacement. Like most existing organic standards, Regulation (EC) 834/2007 does not cover social values which would therefore remain an area in which the private sector may continue to differentiate.

The rules and procedures for the participation of all stakeholders in the development of the implementing rules should be communicated clearly. Stakeholders could be involved in national consultations and the results of these consultations could then be presented by the national members of the regulatory committee. Stakeholders could be also be consulted directly by the EC through internet consultations, as it has been done by e.g. DG Research on several issues. The result of such consultation should be published. Besides, the advisory group on organic farming of DG Agriculture should be frequently consulted during the process of finalising the implementing rules of the new Regulation (EC) 834/2007. A further possibility would be to hold integrative seminars with various stakeholder representatives, when a first draft of the new rules has been published.

The organic farming unit in DG Agriculture needs to have sufficient resources to carry out the additional tasks of wider communication with and consultation of the stakeholders in organic production. Further, the expert panel for organic farming mentioned in Action 11 of the European action plan for organic food and farming should be set up as soon as possible, so that it can advise the EC also on the developing of a coherent interpretation of the objectives and principles set out in Title II for the implementation rules.