Explainer: Key changes to EU organic rules
The European Council to adopt the text of the Regulation providing new rules for organic farming clears the final hurdle for the modernisation of the sector and the harmonisation of rules covering organic production both within the European Union and in non-EU countries.
Why do we need a new set of rules for the organic sector?
Many of the current rules are more than 20 years old, and need to be updated to reflect the major changes that have taken place in the EU organic sector over the last two decades. Organic is no longer a niche part of the EU agri-food sector as it was when the current rules were first drawn up. In fact it is now one of the most dynamic sectors of EU agriculture, with the amount of land used for organic farming growing at around 400,000 hectares a year. The organic market in the EU is worth around €27 billion, some 125% more than ten years ago. The patchwork of rules and derogations currently in place do not give sufficient certainty and security to this highly important sector of European agriculture, and the simpler, more harmonised approach of the new Regulation should help it grow even faster as a result.
When do they come into force?
Once adopted, the new rules will enter into force on 1 January 2021. This will give enough time for producers, operators and trade partners to adapt to the new framework.
What will change?
Fairness is going to be ensured for EU organic farmers and the EU organic logo is going to offer consumers the same quality guarantees all over Europe. Given the premium price most consumers pay for organic food, this quality guarantee is extremely important.
The main improvement is the introduction of one set of EU-wide rules covering the whole EU organic sector. The old rules allowed an à la carte system of exceptions, sometimes at the level of a single producer. The new rules take on board the need for flexibility that these derogations accommodated in the past – duly justified exceptions, such as for example the temporary replacement of an organic ingredient by a non-organic one in cases of limited stocks, will still be permitted – but they will now be limited in time, regularly assessed and if necessary applied to all producers, ensuring fair treatment for all. The same rules will apply to all organic producers and products.
This single set of rules is going to apply also to non-EU farmers who export their organic products to the EU market. It will replace today's 60+ different standards considered equivalent that apply to imported organic foods. At the moment, we are in a situation where different standards may apply to producers within the same country when the latter has no equivalence arrangement with the EU just because certification bodies set their own standards. Conformity to the EU single set of rules will replace the principle of equivalence. It brings important improvements in relation to trade, the main one being that there will be now a level-playing field between operators from the EU and from non-EU countries.
The scope of the rules has been extended to cover a range of new products such as salt, cork and essential oils. It will also be possible in the future to add new products to respond to the development of the sector and to consumers' demands, providing additional opportunities for producers.
The new Regulation brings simplification for farmers. For example, small farmers now will be able to choose group certification which will reduce their certification costs and make it easier for them to join the organic scheme.