19 January 2021
Intercropping for sustainability

Two-day Conference with AAB, DIVERSify and ReMIX at Reading University

6 September 2021
Organic World Congress 2021

New date! Postponed from September 2020

30 July 2020
ORC welcomes the National Food Strategy

The first major reviewof our food system in 75 years

24 July 2020
The future of organic farming and the environment

All to play for if full benefits of organic farming for wildlife, the environment and health are to be realised

29 April 2020
Tim Bennett is the new Chair of ORC

Former NFU president takes on chairmanship of Organic Research Centre

Prohibited product contamination of organic cereals

Pesticide contamination of organic cereals and other arable crops can be devastating. Crops can lose their organic status and may be difficult to sell. This session will examine proposed reforms and protocols and their potential impact on producers and the supply chain. (Organised by Organic Arable)
Bruce Pearce (ORC): Chair

Session summary

The session focused on the Defra initiated consultation on testing procedures for substances prohibited in organic farming, i.e. mainly referring to pesticide residues.

James Winpenny from Defra introduced the scope of the consultation and highlighted that it comprised questions about when testing can or must take place; how sampling procedures should be designed; and what actions should to be taken where an irregularity or infringement has been found.

One question within the consultation referred to the trigger level at which actions would be taken; the options for this could be -

  • specific for different products and substances;
  • or generic;
  • or it could be a proportion of the maximal residue level;
  • or there could be no trigger level.

The 12 week consultation showed diverse views about which option should be adopted. The government response is required by 31st of March. Although the consultation is officially closed, comments were still welcome.

Richard Jacobs from OF&G spoke about the need to protect genuine organic producers and the consumers. There was a duty to investigate cases if contamination is found. He stressed that most contamination cases were in imported products. In the UK, some organic oats samples were found to contain residues.

Defra’s proposal is that if there is ‘no suspicion’, the control body must not carry out testing on any product that has been previously certified, i.e. no random testing would allowed; however, this would endanger trust of consumers. Although ‘suspicion’ is defined in the proposal and contains a wide range of scenarios, OF&G sometimes have concerns which would not be covered by the new guidelines.

Lawrence Woodward said the current proposal by Defra showed a misunderstanding of the EU regulation, which was deliberately not developed as a guarantee of pesticide residue free food.

So far, pesticide residues have not been a problem, but problems have more recently arisen due to the globalisation of the organic market. Although there is now an increasing number of positive samples in UK cereal products, esp. oats, this originates not on farm, but is a problem of food processing.

There is the need to separate accidental contamination from deliberate use of prohibited materials. Pesticide tests should not form the basis of gaining a suspicion. Also it is not possible to use such suspicions to put products on hold.

It was highlighted that current sampling techniques are inaccurate and must be revised. It was concluded that residue testing should focus on final product, not on the farm – which is what the consumer is concerned about.

In the discussion it was asked why Defra was proposing to prevent companies from testing? For this no satisfactory answer was found.

An underlying problem was seen in the assumed but non-existent equivalence of certification among European member states. It was questioned whether the restriction on testing as proposed by Defra is legal, and whether it correctly interprets the European regulation. Is the practice of putting products on hold when pesticides have been found backed by the EU regulation?

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • There was a broad agreement within the audience that restrictions on testing as proposed by Defra would not serve the organic sector well.
  • Further, there is a need to revise sampling techniques as current methods are inaccurate

Speaker presentations and abstracts

Lawrence Woodward (Whole Organic Plus): The limitations of the proposed reforms and impacts on producers (100KB)
This presentation will review the actual situation (as opposed to the politically biased one) of pesticide residue contamination of organic foods in the UK and the EU. It will examine how the systems developed by certification bodies and proposed by Defra are problematic for organic cereal farmers and will undermine the organic regulation. The issue of GM contamination will also be briefly looked at.
James Winpenny (Defra): Initial responses to the Defra Consultation on Defra’s Proposed Protocols (66KB)
Over the years there have been cases of substances that are not permitted in organic production being detected in organic products. The EU organic Regulations provide little guidance on the procedures that should be adopted when testing for such substances and the actions that should be taken where they are detected. Defra wishes to produce guidance for UK organic Control Bodies and for operators on the procedures for testing products for prohibited substances so that a clear and consistent approach towards testing is adopted across the UK. This includes guidance on when organic products may be tested, the types of testing that may be undertaken, the procedures for taking samples, the procedures that should be followed where a prohibited substance is detected and the exchange of information between different parties. A public consultation on draft guidance for operators and organic Control Bodies was launched in September 2012 and closed on 21 December 2012. Defra is in the process of considering the responses and will factor these in when making a final decision on the guidance.
Richard Jacobs (OF&G): Prohibited product contamination of organic produce (with reference to the cereal sector) – A certifiers perspective (100kb)
The organic certifiers occupy a unique position in the organic food landscape. Through their certification services they provide the opportunity for businesses to trade their organic products. Certifiers have to ensure that their registered operators are compliant with the standards and that the inspection and certification system is robust, fair and thorough. Certifiers also have a role in protecting genuine organic producers, and consumers of organic foods, from rogue traders and those with poor management practices that could lead to organic product becoming contaminated with prohibited substances. It is essential that in order to maintain the integrity of the organic certification system, and the public’s trust in that system, that the certifiers are not restricted in their actions, particularly when it comes to testing products for prohibited substances. Defra are currently trying to limit the testing activity of the certifiers and whilst we recognise that testing is only a tool to use in some circumstances, it is an extremely useful tool and should not be restricted in any way.