New days for organic farming?

Monday 27 November 2017

A new set of rules on organic farming is about to be adopted at EU level. These rules aim at creating a level playing field for EU products and imports and at regulating the use of pesticides and ‘out of soil’ production.

Organic farming means, according to the EU Commission’s definition, producing food respecting the natural life cycles and minimising the human impact on the environment.

The current set of European rules being more than two decades old, it does not reflect the major changes that have taken place in the sector. Organic farming is no longer a niche part of the EU agri-food but a dynamic sector of EU agriculture worth around €27 billion per year, some 125% more than ten years ago. That is why a reform has been launched at European level.

This growth will be helped by smaller producers, who will now be allowed to join group certification schemes so as to benefit from lower certification costs” explained Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan[1].

Imported organic products will comply with EU standards

One of the key pillar of the reform is to guarantee consumers the same production quality standards, whether the food is produced in the European Union or imported from third countries. “Throughout these negotiations, which lasted over three years, the Commission had in mind, at all times, the European consumer who buys organic produce and has reasonable certain expectations about the guarantees that the EU organic logo brings” added Commissioner Hogan. The new single set of rules is going to apply also to non-EU farmers who export their organic products to the EU market. It will replace today's 60+ different standards considered equivalent that apply to imported organic foods.

What about greenhouses and pesticides?

The new regulation will carry on considering that nourishing plants through the soil ecosystem is one of the principal requirements of organic production. Indeed, at Parliament’s request, the use of “out of soil” technics such as hydroponics will not be considered compatible with broader organic principles. Nevertheless, Parliament’s, Council’s and Commission’s negotiators agreed that 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 in 2017. The derogation will end in 2030[2].

Regarding pesticides, the new organic rules will retain the interdiction for certified producers to use pesticides on their crops. And to protect organic farmers from adventitious contamination from neighbouring conventional farms using certain plant protection products, the new rules propose EU-harmonised precautionary measures and, in case of contamination, punish irresponsible operators but reward farmers who did their utmost to avoid it[3].

Next steps

Following the recent endorsement of these new rules by Council representatives, the members of the Agriculture Committee of the EU Parliament also gave the go-ahead. The agreed text still needs to be approved by the Parliament as a whole and the Council before it can enter into force in 2021. According to the European Commission, this will give enough time for producers, operators and trade partners to adapt to the new framework.



[3] Idem

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