Oliver Moore: Hold-up in EU organic regulation

The European branch of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM EU) threatens to reject proposed new EU organic regulation, “without substantial changes.”
Oliver Moore: Hold-up in EU organic regulation

The sector remains moribund, as a ‘new’ organic regulation proposed by the EU Commission stalls.

Discussions between the EU Parliament, Commission and Council have yielded little, and almost collapsed in December.

The Parliament, led by German MEPs, oppose a strict interpretation of the rules on pesticides which the Commission proposes.

Some EU member states and MEPs are calling for the process to be scrapped.

The Commission has called for a “period of reflection”, while planning to push on with reform during 2017.

Responsibility for residues, including pesticide residues, in organic food, has been a stumbling block.

If the organic producer didn’t use any pesticide, but a conventional neighbour did, and the traces end up in the certified organic product, who’s liable?

A similar situation pertains for organic food processed alongside conventional food. Should the produce be taken out of organic certification? And how should the organic producer be compensated for loss of organic markets, and especially, the organic price premium?

And where does all of this leave the consumer, who is either naive, idealistic, or a watchdog on the conventionalisation of the organic sector, depending on your perspective.

The proposed regulation, IFOAM EU feels, relies too heavily on an ideal, rather than ‘real world’ interpretation of organic — as if organic farmers don’t have conventional neighbours, or their land a conventional history.

For example, DDT is still showing up in milk and meat residues of animals 40 years after it was banned.

A study from 2015 (Cohn et al) showed DDT in utero is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in adult women, “even in countries in which DDT is not currently used…”

“DDT remains a global environmental contaminant, even where it has been banned, due to its environmental persistence and semivolatility ”.

IFOAM EU have other problems with the proposed regulation.

It says the proposed regulation is based on an incomplete impact assessment, and ignores many of the recommendations offered by the sector throughout the Commission’s regulatory review and revision process.

In particular, IFOAM EU says the Commission is mixing up implementation issues in individual member states with the overall EU level regulation.

IFOAM EU claim a contradiction between the Commission’s claim that “the existing organic policy and legal framework does not provide the appropriate basis for the sustainable development of organic production in the EU” and the mandatory external evaluation carried out by the Thünen Institute (which found “organic legislation generally provides a good basis for a sustainable development of organic production in the EU, even if, in some areas, improvements are possible”).

The external evaluation also pointed to “lack of a harmonised interpretation and enforcement in Member States.”

Weighting given to a public consultation, essentially a self-selecting consumer survey, over and above experts and the organic sector itself is another area of concern for IFOAM EU. The organisation is concerned that “an artificial conflict between producers and consumers” is being stoked by the Commission in their proposal.

It seems that growth of the sector is the main and overarching concern of IFOAM EU, and its supporting MEPs.

Meanwhile, thousands of derogations from organic rules are granted all over the EU, including almost 1000 here in Ireland. Monogastic feed continues to contain a small amount of conventional ingredients.

The question persists: are IFOAM EU and others too concerned with organic industry viability, rather than integrity?

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