The lists of substances which can be used in EU organic farming has been amended.
After a two-year consultation process, changes were made in the case of 39 substances. Some are new, while others have had their permitted use adjusted.
This has been described as a “simplification” by EU agri commissioner Phil Hogan, who also said: “Given the level of growth and dynamic change in the sector, it is very important that EU rules on organic farming remain up to date.
Today’s new rules updating the substances which can be used in production should provide a boost to the sector.”
While the Commission statement made reference to 39 new substances, as Gillian Westbrook of IOFGA emphasised: “It’s much less, many conditions for use have been changed, but they are not new substances… annexes have mainly been restructured and simplified, and as such harmonised with the horizontal legislation and the conditions for use for some substances changed.”
At the production end, some basic substances were added for plant protection products. As is always the case with the organic regulations, considerable consideration was given to the human, animal, and environmental health.
Already in the relevant horizontal regulation, the basic substances “are substances not predominantly used as plant protection products and that do not have an immediate or delayed harmful effect on human and animal health nor an unacceptable effect on the environment.
"Organic goes beyond that, accepting only ‘basic substances’ which are considered foodstuff and are of plant or animal origin. It means substances like vinegar, sucrose, fructose, lecithins, etc,” the legislation states.
This column also communicated with IFOAM EU — the overseeing federation for organic organisations in Europe — for comment.
They were keen to point to the balance between allowing the sector to grow, while maintaining the principles of the sector — a balancing act between integrity and viability seen in many good farming and food movements.
What was interesting in their response was the reference not specifically to artificial or chemical inputs per se, but even simply off farm inputs: “According to the organic production principles it is crucial to lower the dependency on off-farm inputs through preventive and indirect measures internal to the agroecosystem.
"Innovation and research exploring new practices — at both farm and food-processing levels — are crucial to development in this area.
"However, in the meantime and in some cases, organic producers have no option other than to use off-farm products and substances, which are themselves in line with the organic principles.”
They added: “In such cases, products and substances that are clearly of natural origin and harmless to human health and the environment, such as vinegar or sucrose used as plant protection products, cannot be subject to an approval process which lasts years.
"As organic producers are already actively not using the vast majority of products, preventing access to such substances puts them in a disadvantageous position.
In short, it is good to simplify the authorisation process of new substances and products which are clearly in line with the organic principles, however the medium-long term vision should be to reduce as much as possible off-farm inputs, and provide more research for innovative practices.”
IFOAM EU also pointed out that these new changes also involve “stricter” restrictions.
This is contrary to the lazy clichés of the conventionalisation thesis, which presumes that organic is always in a process of being watered down as it grows — “some conditions for use have changed and are stricter.
"For example, only organic potato starch can be used in organic yeast production and — after a transition period — only lecithins derived from organically produced raw material will be allowed.”
In the process of growing, away from the headlines and in the boring nitty gritty of bureaucracy, it appears that the organic sector retains the organic movement’s focus on human, animal, and environmental health.
All the while managing that balance between viability and integrity.
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