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Organic body warns regulation proposals will damage organics

Date Published: 25/07/2014

A leading organic body has warned that it will be forced to withdraw its support for a proposed new EU regulation unless significant amendments are made to parts which threaten the entire sector.

OF&G chief executive, Roger Kerr
OF&G chief executive, Roger Kerr

Organic Farmers & Growers, which inspects and certifies a significant proportion of UK organic food and farming, has revealed that it will not back the proposals in their current form.

Following close examination of the documents currently under consultation by the industry, and having discussed them with counterparts and other stakeholders around Europe, OF&G chief executive Roger Kerr said the unavoidable conclusion was that the suggested changes were not in the best interests of the industry.

He said: “We are fully behind the key aims of this process, which were to strengthen standards and unify their application across the European Union. However there are aspects to many of the proposals in the consultation that have clearly not been thought through to their logical conclusion. When you do that, you can see the potential for massive damage to the organic sector – and that at a time when it should be growing in response to ever-increasing consumer awareness and demand.

“There is a real need to revisit the regulation and improve and tighten it in a number of areas, but we do not want to lose organic producers and processors in the process. These changes as they stand will cost jobs and livelihoods, which can’t be what anyone who cares about organic food and farming wants to see!”

OF&Gs’ main concerns are around proposals to change some fundamental elements of the current rules and at a pace the sector could not sustain. Some of key changes, however, will have a significant impact on the development of the organic sector and on consumers’ access to organic products just when demand is rising.

The suggested changes would, for the first time, bring all retailers within the regulatory framework, rather than just those who are handling unpackaged organic goods, as is the case currently. OF&Gs’ concern is that this will bring significant additional cost to smaller, specialist stores which offer a limited amount of organic and, on that basis, they may withdraw from the sector altogether, removing important outlets for many individual farms and small food processors.

Consumer choice is at risk, says OF&G, from a plan to require all third countries exporting to the EU to be compliant with the EU organic standard. Currently only equivalence is demanded, which allows for judgement to be used where geographical, climatic or other considerations might make compliance with the full EU rules impractical. On this basis, many countries many never achieve full compliance.

Of less obvious (but no less important) impact are plans to demand the use of chicks with fully organic parentage in the poultry sector.

Mr Kerr explained: “Moving towards ever more robust standards with less and less tolerance for non-organic inputs is undoubtedly the aim of all those who really care for the heart of the organic sector. What we can’t do, however, is suddenly demand the impossible. There is no dedicated organic breeder flock in the UK at this time and the sector needs time, support and careful management if anyone is to be encouraged to make that kind of investment in the fullness of time. We believe organic consumers prefer to have eggs and poultry raised from birds reared organically from a very young age rather than no organic choice at all!”

OF&G is not alone in its concerns, with other key groups expressing their dismay at the nature of the current proposals, including IFOAM EU, the representative group for the sector in Europe.