The saga of reforming the EU’s organic regulation is ongoing.
However, it looks as if, slowly but surely, IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) EU — the umbrella organisation for organic farming organisations in Europe — is getting its way.
Another deferral of the decision to vote on the regulation is down to, in large part, IFOAM EU’s doggedness in shooting down what seem like increasingly naive Commission reform plans.
Briefly, the reform is about four things:
Introduction of a risk-based control regime and the proposal to remove the requirement for the annual inspection by the Organic Control Bodies.
Harmonisation of residue sampling, analysis and action thereby establishing a minimum threshold for pesticide residues above which the product cannot be sold as organic.
The removal of the current flexibility where a farm can, under very specific conditions of separation, produce both organic and non organic products on the same holding.
Severe restriction in the reduction of the conversion period.
As reported by the EU policy news organisation ViEUws: “The reform of organic legislation was one of the key points on the Farm Council agenda on May 11, but the Latvian Presidency failed to secure a common position among Ministers and the vote was pushed back until the next Council meeting on June 16.”
The biggest issues — residues and controls — have all been flagged for many months now by IFOAM EU.
Indeed Comissioner Phil Hogan was bluntly asked by journalist Rose O’Donovan, at the press conference which followed the Latvian meeting, if it was time to give up on this particular reform, a reform which, no stakeholder, it seems, wants.
He replied: “I don’t share your negative comments in relation to this file.We have made substantial progress on harmonisation of EU rules around organic production, and how we can have a common set of rules that takes account of EU production and imports.
“The question of non-authorised substances is a dividing issue with the Council but I think we’ve made substantial progress in understanding what is the basis of a proposal that would meet the concerns of delegations that have expressed those concerns.”
If this is indeed substantial progress — understanding the basis of a proposal that would meet concerns — I’d hate to see regression.
Interestingly, the mainstream farming lobby (Copa Cogeca) and Minister Simon Coveney share the IFOAM EU position on this reform.
According to Copa Cogeca President Christian Pees the EU organic sector is growing fast, but he complained of the high level of red tape surrounding the review, warning it stifles innovation.
“We need evolution and not revolution so the 250,000 organic farmers can continue to earn a living from. We welcome some of the changes made ... especially the maintenance of mixed farmers in the sector as a ban would deter farmers from converting to organic farming.”
He added: “The requirement to have yearly controls should be maintained as it helps to maintain a regular link between certification bodies and operators, considering the rapid changes to regulation and the complexity of the regulatory framework. This is also important to ensure consumer confidence in the EU organic farming logo.”
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, in reply to a Dáil question, stated: “While, in principle, Ireland is supportive of many aspects of the text we feel that the proposal overall is too ambitious and does not sufficiently reflect the varying stages of development of the organic sector at individual member state level.
“The proposal — as it is formulated — could curtail the development of the sector in Ireland and may even act as an impediment to farmers wishing to convert to organic production.”
So how have Ministers, the mainstream farming lobby and the Commissioner all started, to varying degrees, singing from the IFOAM EU hymn sheet? More next week.
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