The results of a public consultation on the future of organic farming in the EU were published by the European Commission in September 2013, with over 45,000 respondents giving their views. There was strong support for stricter rules on organic farming at the EU level (74%), with 86% of respondents supporting the establishment of uniform organic rules across the EU. Nevertheless, strong trust was expressed in existing organic labelling arrangements (71%).
Most consumers reported buying organic products “mainly out of concern about the environment (83%), and because they are free from GMOs and pesticide residues (81%)”. Other key results included:
- 78% of respondents willing to pay more for organic goods;
- 61% of respondents “against keeping exemptions from production rules” when it came to organic products;
- 57% objecting to any reduction of inspections for producers with a proven track record of compliance with organic standards;
- 70% of respondents favouring “better controls on imported organic products”;
- 65% of respondents requesting “the opening of the non-EU markets to EU organic products”.
The most relevant objective for organic production in EU trade negotiations was seen as being “to support the development of more sustainable and eco-friendly agricultural practices in other countries” (72%).
Sixty per cent (60%) of respondents supported “strengthening animal welfare standards for all types of agricultural production systems”.
The Commission confirmed that the results of the consultation would “feed the ongoing review of the political and legal framework for organic agriculture in Europe, with an overall strategy to be put forward in early 2014”.
Press reports suggest there are signs of a recovery in the UK market for organic products, which peaked at sales of £2.1 billion in 2008 before falling to £1.22 billion in 2011/12. Growth of 0.6% (to £1.23 billion) was reported for the year to September 2013, still substantially below the 2008 peak sales level. However, the overall outlook is seen as more positive following the scandal in the UK over the false labelling of horsemeat. Organic labelling is now seen as providing a better assurance of the quality of the product and veracity of the claims made.
The findings of the public consultation seem likely to reinforce the trend – apparent in the EC’s May 2013 proposals for a new food and feed control regulation – towards strengthening official controls on organic products and relegating existing private schemes to the status of implementing agents for an official EU-wide organic product control system.
In terms of external trade in organic products, concerns have been expressed that any moves towards greater reliance on official controls and away from private certification schemes could lead to real problems in some third countries where official control systems are weak (see Agritrade article ‘ Concerns expressed over impact of revision of EU food and feed controls...’, 11 August 2013).
This could have important implications in those ACP regions looking to expand organic exports to nearby EU territories (e.g. in the Pacific, within the framework of the POETCom initiative – see Agritrade article ‘ An individual island in the Pacific goes entirely organic’, 26 August 2013) and in those ACP countries which are major organic exporters (e.g. the Dominican Republic, which is a leading exporter of organic products to the EU market).
Private sector exporters and the governments of the affected countries will need to pay close attention to the elaboration of the specific EC proposals to be included in the new EU organic products regime and the new EU Food and Feed Control Regulation, both scheduled to be tabled in 2014.