EU proposals for the regulation of the organic farming industry

3 June 2014

Article by Alexander Royan, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Image from Wikimedia. Licenced under the Creative Commons.

Image from Wikimedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Organic farming is based on a strict set of principles that aim to produce high-quality, healthy food whilst ensuring minimal impact on the natural environment. In the European Union (EU), the organic industry governed by EU-wide regulations.

The European Commission published proposals on 24 March 2014 to amend the current regulatory regime on the production and labelling of organic products which could have impacts for the development of organic farming in Wales.

The proposals follow a review which raised concerns that the existing legislation has not kept pace with growth in the organic sector and is in fact now deterring farmers from entering into the organic trade.

The proposed Regulation

The stated main objectives of the proposed Regulation are to:

  1. remove obstacles to the sustainable development of organic production in the EU;
  2. guarantee fair competition for farmers and operators;
  3. maintain or improve consumer confidence in organic products.

The Regulation proposes that these objectives will be achieved by simplifying production rules, shifting control systems towards a risk-based approach, and by harmonising production rules across EU member States.

Additionally, the new Regulation would remove the necessity for yearly inspections of farmers’ compliance with production rules and introduce of a group certification for small farmers to encourage more to join the EU’s organic scheme.

Potential impact for Wales

In June 2012 there were over 1,000 organic farms in Wales and approximately 8% of total agricultural land area was managed organically or in conversion to organic management; a comparatively higher proportion than in England (4%), Scotland (3%) or Northern Ireland (1%).

Key areas of interest in the Regulation for Wales will be:

  • Proposals for holdings to be exclusively organic: currently, organic farmers may be allowed to grow conventional produce parallel to organics if it is shown to be necessary to keep their business viable. However, under the proposed Regulation, organic farmers will have to manage the entirety of their holdings organically. An, as yet, unspecified transition period will be allowed for farmers to adapt their practices.
  • Removal of non-organic feed exceptions: the new Regulation proposes that organic livestock must be provided with organic feed exclusively. This removes the allowance for the temporary use of conventional foodstuffs, such as those provided during adverse weather conditions.

Government response

On 25 March the UK Government outlined some potential positives to the UK organic sector that could arise from the proposals, including defined actions for non-compliance leading to a level playing field across EU Member States.

However, the UK Government raised particular concern over proposals to remove allowances for parallel conventional-organic farms as it considers these types of business to be more prevalent within the UK organic sector than elsewhere within the EU.

The Welsh Government stated that it has consulted with DEFRA on the draft regulations to ensure that the concerns of the devolved countries are captured in future UK-EU negotiations.

Key stakeholder responses

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) Ltd announced their support for the proposals, pointing towards benefits to the sector offered by the streamlining of regulations and removal of legislative obstacles.

Conversely, the National Farmers Union (NFU) was more critical and considers existing Regulation to be already very stringent. The NFU are of the opinion that the proposed Regulation could threaten growth in the sector. This sentiment was shared by Copa-Cogena – a collaborative group of over 90 EU farmers and agricultural organisations.

The Research Service has produced a Policy Update which provides further information on the content of the proposals and the context in Wales which can be found on the Assembly’s website here.