EU organic farming regulation still proving divisive

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© istock/subtropica
© istock/subtropica

Related tags Member states European union

EU agriculture ministers have failed to reach a consensus on the proposal for organic regulation.

The negotiations have been dogged by legal and political wrangling since the draft regulation was first tabled two years ago. Issues such as GMO and pesticide residues in organic food and feed proved divisive.

Triologue discussions had been ongoing since September with the Commission, the EU Parliament and member states looking to finalize the revision of regulations. The institutions had been aiming to get agreement on the regulation by the end of the Slovak presidency, which finishes this month.

The president of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, which met earlier this week in Brussels, welcomed the Commission intention not to withdraw and concluded that a period of reflection was now needed to consider further work on the file​.

The proposal on organic production and labelling of organic products, presented by the Commission in March 2014, is aimed at revising the existing legislation on organic production and labelling of organic products so as to remove obstacles to the sustainable development of organic production in the EU.

Its is also aimed at ensuring fair competition for farmers and operators, prevent fraud and unfair practices and improve consumer confidence in organic products.

The Commission said it wants to strengthen the rules on the control system, trade regime, animal welfare practices and non-authorised substances.

The Council reached a general approach on the organic regulation on 16 June 2015 and the EP Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (COMAGRI) voted on its report on 13 October 2015. Negotiations started in November 2015 and so far 14 trilogues have taken place.

"Delegations acknowledged the good progress made under Slovak presidency and generally expressed the will to continue negotiations with a view to reaching a satisfactory agreement with the European Parliament and improving the current legislation to the benefit of organic producers and consumers. Ministers also took the opportunity to restate their position on the outstanding issues,"​ stated the Council.

Growing sector

At a press briefing afterwards, EU agriculture commissioner, Phil Hogan, and EU council president and Slovakia’s minister for agriculture, Gabriela Matecná, stressed that 40 out of the key 45 central issues had been agreed on.

“I welcome the view that has been expressed by member states that we should continue our work to reach an acceptable compromise. We want to ensure the integrity of the organic sector is maintained. It is a growing sector, of 9% per annum,” ​said Hogan.

They both said they were confident now the Maltese presidency would bring the issue to a close in early 2017.  

Derogations, thresholds

Commenting on the failure of EU farm ministers to seal the deal, Christopher Stopes, IFOAM EU president, noted opinions among the Commission, Council and Parliament as well as among member states themselves diverge on many key topics including thresholds, greenhouse production, seeds and derogations.

This lack of agreement on the direction for the new organic regulation demonstrates what stakeholders have been saying since the beginning: The Commission’s proposal is too flawed to provide a good basis for discussion,”​ he said on Monday this week.

A spokesperson for IFOAM EU told us previously that opportunities to use the new regulation as a tool for the further the development of organic were being missed

“Instead of drawn-out discussions on the thresholds and the control system, we would have welcomed more consideration, for example, of new ways to help organic processors to further improve their environmental performance,”​ she said.

The IFOAM EU spokesperson said it was important that the final text both improves on the existing regulation and that it can be applied practically. “The technical soundness of the text will have a profound impact on the ability of national authorities, certifiers and organic operators to correctly apply it,”​ she added.

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