While the EU Commission and IFOAM EU continue to argue in public and private in relation to the proposed new organic regulation and the responsibility for pesticide residues, another issue is causing tension.
Imports of organic products — from animal feed to consumer goods — is emerging as a major battle ground between the two sides.
For its part, IFOAM EU wants the entire proposed regulation to be scrapped. The relationship between the EU Commission and the EU organic sector’s representative body is fraught.
During Green Week in January — Germany’s version of the Ploughing — Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan was on the front page of one of Germany’s top newspapers, reminding readers of 2011 when organic sprouts poisoned thousands and indeed killed dozens of Germans.
This showed the need for better regulation, as the sprouted organic fenugreek beans had been imported from Egypt, he said.
Spanish cucumbers had previously been wrongly blamed, which cost Spanish growers up to €200 million in lost sales). Needless to say, this infuriated the organic sector, but it was emblematic of the poor relationship between the Commission and the sector.
Concerns with the standard and quality of imports into the EU from outside are compounded by a rapid growth of organic consumption, faster than growth in organically certified EU land.
Simply put, as people eat more and more organic food, both feed for both animals and humans will have to come from elsewhere.
A major supplier of organic feed into the EU from Ukraine was, in 2016, struck off the approved list because of suspicious pesticide residues in sunflower cake and other materials. Sunflower cake is used by the poultry sector in particular.
Though long established as a grain exporter, the organic certification system in Ukraine is a very late developer, only really formalising in recent months.
There are 16 certification bodies in Ukraine after one was struck off over the sunflower cake contamination.
According to Beate Huber of FiBL (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture), who spoke at a dedicated event organised by the ‘Anti Fraud Initiative’ (established by FiBL and others) in 2015: “The sunflower cake was used for making animal feed compound and was already widely distributed in North-Western Europe.
"The feed and in some instances the animals and eggs had to be withdrawn from the market. This caused an not only damage to the organic poultry, pork and beef industry but also to the image of Ukraine as a source of organic products.
"Ukraine is the biggest supplier of sunflower worldwide. It was reported that one certifier has certified 120,000 ha of sunflower — an area equalling the total organically certified area in Switzerland.”
Inevitably, reduced feed availability from Ukraine translates to higher prices for organic importers.
IFOAM EU and the EU Commission differ on how to manage imports into the EU.
Under proposals, the current import regime would be changed into an import system with two alternatives:
Control bodies and authorities recognised for the purpose of compliance.
Countries recognised as equivalent under a trade agreement.
IFOAM EU disagree with both proposals — preferring instead to “maintain an import system based mainly on the equivalency concept” but with added simplifications and transparency.
Whatever about how the new regulation — if it comes in — deals with imports from outside the European Union, the Commission took action last November.
Then, the EU Commission announced, following recommendations from the Court of Auditors, new EU rules introducing a system of electronic certification for imported organic product.
These will be in effect from April of this year, following a six month introductory period.
After that, “the rules foresee a six-month transitional period during which both paper and e-certification will be used. From October 19, organic imports will be covered only by e-certification” according to the Commission.
In practical terms, will these challenges mean that organic farmers start to grow more of their own feed — on farm, on a regional or national basis?
And how would this be coordinated?
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