Press reports have variously highlighted developments that could result in increasingly strict organic requirements on the German market. The German Bundesrat at the end of March 2012 demanded a tightening up of controls on certifying bodies responsible for verifying compliance with organic standards. This is intended to make it harder to commit fraud via organic labelling.
These developments come against the background of the pending implementation of new EU labelling rules for organic products from 1 July 2012. According to Organic Farmers and Growers (OF&G), a major UK certification agency, ‘quite simply, from the first day of July this year, a product that has been pre-packaged in an EU member state and which does not carry the correct EU symbol and wording will be breaking the law and, as this is not an overnight change but one that has enjoyed a two-year transition, there will be few, if any, legitimate excuses available.’ OF&G have produced a comprehensive guide on the requirements of the regulation.
According to OF&G’s compliance and certification manager, ‘It is in no-one’s interests for… businesses to be caught out by this and they should act now … given the lead times often required to change packaging design, arrange print runs and use up old stock’.
In April, the German organic association Bioland expressed criticism of increased imports of organic potatoes from Israel and Egypt, maintaining that the trend towards importing organic products runs ‘against the wishes of consumers for more local product’, as it is resulting in locally produced organic potatoes rotting in warehouses.
Meanwhile, UNCTAD officials at a major international conference on organic farming held in Zambia have argued that an expansion in organic farming in Africa would bring major benefits. The conference sought to develop an African Organic Action Plan to expand the sector, streamline certification and organic equivalence systems, and further develop organic consumption in Africa.
According to UNCTAD, ‘organic agriculture can increase farm yields by 100 per cent or more and help farmers receive higher prices for their produce, which sells at a premium.’
Scientific analysis suggests however that for such yield increases to occur, more research will be needed into fixing nitrogen levels in the soils used for organic cultivation.
Following the establishment of common EU standards, the Bundesrat initiative in Germany now raises questions over whether national standards will de facto be enforced by stricter regulation of certification agencies. This raises issues related to the development of local organic certification bodies to reduce the costs of certification and verification. If the German authorities introduce stricter standards for recognition of certification agencies, this could undermine some of the cost-saving benefits arising under recently concluded mutual recognition agreements with third countries.
These developments highlight the importance of ACP suppliers staying on top of all aspects of regulatory developments, not only with regard to standards per se, but also labelling and certification agency requirements. Not meeting these administrative requirements can have as great an impact on trade as not meeting organic production requirements. There would appear to be a need for strengthening information flows to ACP producers to ensure that no ACP organic producer is caught out by evolving requirements.
Bioland’s emphasis on desires of organic consumers for local products highlights a growing need for ACP organic producers to pursue dual organic–fair trade certification in order to remain attractive to EU consumers and hence continue to enjoy the possibility of securing price premiums.
If Africa’s organic potential is to be fully exploited, emerging policy developments in export markets such as the EU will need to be monitored.