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Options for reform of the EU’s organic products regime

01 December 2013

An EC analysis of the current EU organic products regime presented to the 11th ad-hoc meeting on CAP simplification in September 2013 identified deficiencies in the current control system and the trade regime. It was maintained that these deficiencies, along with the complex legislative framework, were giving rise to high administrative costs, which resulted in “lost opportunities for EU producers”.

The presentation maintained that the 2004 European Action Plan for Organic Food and Farming and Council Regulation No. 834/2007 no longer meet the needs of the EU organic sector. The main policy objectives of reform in order “to ensure consumer confidence and support a sustainable development of the organic market” include “ensuring fair competition and a proper functioning of the internal market in organic products, while enhancing profitability for producers”.

At an internal brainstorming session in the Commission’s Agriculture Directorate in March 2013, three areas of the EU’s organic regime were identified that could be simplified, would have a significant impact and would be likely to succeed. These related to:

  • EU organic production rules;
  • the adoption of a risk-based approach to controls on organic products;
  • the adoption of a streamlined approach to trade in organic products.

Significantly, the EC recognised that small-scale producers face particular problem in developing organic production, given their limited production volumes and their often remote location. It is recognised that for smallholder producers, “inspection and certification costs, together with the administrative burden linked to record keeping, are not always proportionate to the volume produced.” It is also recognised that smallholder farmers are often “less well trained and face difficulties in dealing with the requirements of organic certification”.

The EC was considering forms of group certification and some simplification in registration of organic producers, while maintaining the necessary inspections and controls.

Currently the EC is looking at three options for the future of the EU organic products regime:

  • an improved status quo arrangement, with better enforcement of current legislation and some adjustments;
  • a market-driven option, designed to provide “conditions for EU producers to benefit from further market developments”;
  • the principle-driven option, which refocuses the organic farming regime on basic principles.

The EC maintains that a careful assessment of the administrative costs of each option is required, with a preliminary assessment suggesting that the principle-driven policy option is likely to be the least burdensome. 

The administrative costs arising from controls on organic imports will in fact be largely determined by the specific provisions of the EU revised food and feed control regulation. The current EC proposal “extends the scope of current mandatory official control fees to most official controls”, and includes moves towards full cost recovery for the official controls carried out. However, it is stressed that competent authorities should seek to carry out official controls “in a manner that minimizes the burden on operators”. 

Editorial comment

The identification of deficiencies in the current control systems for organic products and the application of the trade regime points to a tightening of controls on organic imports. According to analysis from the German organic control body Gesellschaft für Ressourcenschutz, the EC is gravitating towards the establishment of an EU-wide framework of regulatory controls for organic products. This would place greater emphasis on product analysis rather than production process controls, and would effectively transform existing private sector organic control bodies into ‘delegated bodies’ of the competent authority. In the context of existing weaknesses at the level of official control systems in third countries, concerns have been expressed that  “if organic control becomes a state-run obligation in countries outside the EU”, this would generate real problems in terms of access to EU markets (see Agritrade article ‘ Concerns expressed over impact of revision of EU food and feed controls...', 11 August 2013).

This could pose particular challenges where cooperation and trade in organic products are emerging on the basis of Participatory Guarantee Schemes approved by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). This would appear to be the case in the Pacific, where trade and cooperation between Pacific ACP countries and French Pacific overseas territories is being developed under the POETCom initiative. Avoiding disruption of this emerging cooperation may require special exemptions to be built into both the new EU organic products regulation and the new food and feed control regulation to allow the establishment of specific administrative arrangements for small-scale trade in organic products in the Pacific (and potentially the Caribbean).

This would be consistent with the recognition of the particular problems faced by small-scale organic producers and the EC’s openness to models of organic certification that address the particular challenges faced by small-scale producers. However, it is unclear whether EC thinking on small-scale producers is being extended beyond the EU. In the related area of the special exemptions to full cost recovery for small-scale producers under the proposed new feed and food control regulation, to date no consideration has been given to extending this exemption beyond the EU’s borders to small-scale suppliers in the ACP. 


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