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Organic regulations

Contents

Updating the regulations

In March 2014, the EU Commission published a legal proposal for a new organic regulation in Europe. The new proposal is based on an impact assessment carried out by the Commission.

In our view, the proposal is a mix of good intentions and inadequately thought out provisions, based on a limited assessment of the impact on organic production, with too much detail left to delegated acts.

See article in ORC Bulletin No.115 New EU Organic Regulation: fine words and good intentions are likely to create uncertainty for years to come

Defra has carried out a number of meetings with stakeholders to consult on the new proposal with the aim to inform the UK’s negotiation position in Brussels.

ORC was part of a team that carried out an external evaluation of the current regulation. The evaluation showed that the EU legislation on organic farming generally provides a sound basis for a sustainable development of organic production in the European Union, but in a number of areas the regulatory framework could be improved. See full report here. For a short summary see article in ORC Bulletin 115 So what has the current EU Organic Regulation ever done for us?.

The existing legal framework continues to be reviewed. A new regulation (EU) No 836/2014 amending Reg.(EC) No 889/2008 on poultry production and protein feed has been published. It postpones the deadline for the possibility to introduce non-organically reared pullets for egg production of not more than 18 weeks (Article 42 b), if organic pullets until the end of 2017. It also postponed the deadline on the maximum allowed percentage (5%) of non-organic protein feed (Article 43) has been postponed until end of 2017.

New Regulation (EU) No 2016/1842 on imports provides significant amendments to and clarifies some requirements of the Regulation (EC) No 1235/2008. In particular:

  • The deadline for control bodies willing to operate out of the EU and be recognised for the purpose of compliance is again postponed from 31 October 2016 to 31 October 2017
  • A clear indication on how to categorise processed and unprocessed products is given
  • A system of electronic certification for imported organic products has been developed and will be applied from 19 April 2017. For a transitional period lasting until 19 October 2017, its use will not be mandatory.
  • The new system is integrated into the already existing Commission's electronic Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES)
  • Other important clarifications to harmonise practices in the import processes are provided.
  • Link to the list of all the organic regulations on the IFOAM EU website

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    Overview of European Regulation on organic food

    All food products sold as organic must by law follow certain standards (both European and national) and have to be regularly inspected and certified by approved certification bodies. Revised European regulations for organic food came into force on 1 January 2009: Council Regulation (EC) 834/2007 on organic food and the Commission Regulation (EC) 889/2008 laying down detailed rules of the implementation. They replaced Regulation (EEC) 2092/91. These regulations for organic production in Europe set out objectives and principles of organic production, as well as practices and inputs that may be used in farming and growing and processing. Certification of the holding is also a condition of eligibility for the organic farming support schemes throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland. A summary of the main aspects of the regulation follows.

    Council Regulation (EC) 834/2007 came into force on the 1st. January 2009 and sets outs objectives and principles, as well as the basic requirements for plant and livestock production, aquaculture, compound feed, the preparation of products (i.e. processing) and criteria for the approval of substances that are included in the Annexes. The scope has been extended to cover all operators along the whole organic food supply chains. One notable exception is catering, but like non-food products this could be covered by national regulations. In the UK only private schemes currently exist. The EU regulation allows that under certain specified conditions, organic production could be adapted to local conditions, for example under specific climatic conditions or in less developed markets, but only with prior approval of the Regulatory Committee in Brussels.

    Commission Regulation (EC) 889/2008 contains the more detailed implementing rules for crop and livestock production, processed products, packaging, transport and storage, labelling and inspection, similar to what used to be covered by the Annexes of Regulation (EEC) 2092/91. This Regulation has to be considered jointly with the Council Regulation (EC) 834/2007.

    More detailed rules for aquaculture, seaweed and yeast production have been developed and incorporated in 889/2008. Rules for grape wine production have been discussed but not implemented. Other areas such as organic pullets and chicks, and protected cropping are expected to be developed during 2011 and 2012.

    Objectives of organic farming (Article 3/EC/834/2007): Organic production shall pursue the following objectives: (a) establish a sustainable management system for agriculture that: (i) respects nature's systems and cycles and sustains and enhances the health of soil, water, plants and animals and the balance between them; (ii) contributes to a high level of biological diversity; (iii) makes responsible use of energy and the natural resources, such as water, soil, organic matter and air; (iv) respects high animal welfare standards and in particular meets animals’ species-specific behavioural needs; (b) aim at producing products of high quality and (c) aim at producing a wide variety of foods and other agricultural products that respond to consumers’ demand.

    Principles (Article 4/EC/834/2007): Organic production shall be based on the following principles: (a) the appropriate design and management of biological processes based on ecological systems using natural resources which are internal to the system by methods that: (i) use living organisms and mechanical production methods; (ii) practise land-related crop cultivation and livestock production or practise aquaculture which complies with the principle of sustainable exploitation of fisheries; (iii) exclude the use of GMOs and products produced from or by GMOs with the exception of veterinary medicinal products; (iv) are based on risk assessment and the use of precautionary and preventive measures, when appropriate; (b) the restriction of the use of external inputs. Where external inputs are required or the appropriate management practices and methods referred to in paragraph (a) do not exist, these shall be limited to: (i) inputs from organic production; (ii) natural or naturally-derived substances; (iii) low solubility mineral fertilisers; (c) the strict limitation of the use of chemically synthesised inputs to exceptional cases, these being: (i) where the appropriate management practices do not exist; and (ii) the external inputs referred to in paragraph (b) are not available on the market; or (iii) where the use of external inputs referred to in paragraph (b) contributes to unacceptable environmental impacts; (d) the adaptation, where necessary, and within the framework of this Regulation, of the rules of organic production taking account of sanitary status, regional differences in climate and local conditions, stages of development and specific husbandry practices.

    Derogations and use of permitted inputs: All existing derogations have been replaced by either permanent rules, or by exceptional production rules, which are limited either for a certain time or under certain conditions, for example, the rules for the use of non-organic feed that will expire for all species at the end of December 2011. Permitted inputs, such as fertiliser and soil conditioners (Annexes I) Pest and disease control (Annex II of Commission Regulation 889/2008) no longer require authorisation from the certification body before use. Responsibility to decide on certain exceptions has been granted to the operator or the competent national authority (Defra in the UK). Operators using permitted inputs have to be able to provide documentary evidence at the time of inspection that the use of a certain input is in line with the principles and rules set out. It is strongly recommended that producers consult their certification body if they are uncertain about the conditions under which a certain input can be used as some UK certification bodies are continuing to require that they are consulted prior to use.

    Prohibition of the use of GMO: The existing prohibition of GMOs in organic products will be maintained. To determine whether an input is GM free the operator can rely on the labels in line with the Directive 2001/18/EC.

    Reductions to the conversion period can only be granted where either a parcel of land was part of a land management agreement that excludes non-permitted inputs (e.g. agri-environment measures) or where the competent authority (previously certification body) is satisfied that there is sufficient proof that non-permitted inputs have not been applied for at least three years. Defra will issue guidance on how reductions in the conversion period are to be authorised. It is envisaged that a reduction to less then 12 months will not be granted other than for poultry runs.

    Labelling: On pre-packaged goods the use of the new EU logo (Euroleaf) has become mandatory from the 1st. July 2010. Packaging in line with Regulation 2092/91 may continue to be used until 1 January 2012 so long as the product otherwise complies with Regulation 834/2007. Stocks of products already produced, packaged and labelled may be sold until stocks are exhausted. The label has to show an indication of the place of origin of the raw materials. Only products containing more than 95% organic ingredients can be labelled as organic; products with lower organic content can declare the organic origin of raw materials on the ingredient list but must still be produced under the control of an approved certification body. The category of products containing at least 70% of organic ingredients has been withdrawn. The label has to carry the code number of the control body that carried out the most recent inspection. The code numbers of the certification bodies will have to carry the ISO code for the country identifier (GB), and the term Organic Certification and the specific code number of the control bodies.

    Control system: This has been linked to the European Regulation on control systems for food (EC/882/2007), but will maintain an annual verification of each operator. A standardised EU-wide format for certificates will be introduced, along with a standard operator identification number. The organic certification bodies in the UK (see this section) remain an essential component of the organic control system and some operate their own standards. Producers are advised to consult with their inspection bodies, even in respect of issues which the EU Regulations leave to the operator’s discretion.

    Processing inputs (Annex VI): The use of sodium nitrite and potassium nitrate, sulphur dioxide, potassium metabisulphite and hydrochloric acid (only permitted for specific cheeses) was reviewed by 31st. December 2010 with a view to withdrawing these additives afterwards; it has been decided that they will not be withdrawn. No date has been set for a further review. Member states are still being encouraged to establish educational programmes in alternative processing methods and hygiene. For some other listed additives and ingredients changes to the conditions of use apply.

    For full details of the European regulations, go to: ec.europa.eu/agriculture/organic/eu-policy/legislation_en.

    ORC is involved in a European project on organic certification (see Certcost). The project is developing policy recommendations on organic certification.

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    Implementation in the UK on standards and certification

    Some certification bodies in the UK operate their own standards, which may include higher specifications than those required by the EU Regulations, particularly with regard to livestock husbandry and environmental requirements and to the use of certain inputs. All control bodies holding their own standards will need to adapt these in the light of the changes to the European Regulation. Producers can obtain copies of the full standards from the certification bodies. Regular updates to the standards are distributed to licensees in the form of newsletters. Some sector bodies are aiming to develop standards in new areas currently not regulated by the EU, such as pullet rearing and transplant production. Co-operation agreements between some certification bodies also exist. For an up-to-date list of UK and Irish certification bodies see here. An overview of the UK certification system and control bodies can be found here.

    The legislative function of the competent authority for the whole of the UK lies with the Defra Organic Farming Branch, which is responsible for implementing the European regulations under the UK Organic Products Regulation. Defra has issued a Guidance Document (PDF 330KB) on European Organic Standards to assist producers, processors and importers with the implications of the new regime for UK producers. This has replaced the Compendium of UK Organic Standards.

    Defra is assisted by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS). Defra and UKAS are responsible for licensing the UK organic certification (control) bodies and for overseeing their inspection activities. An up-to-date list of certification bodies can be found here. The identifying code (GB Organic Certification XX) of the certifier must be used in the labelling of certified organic products, the name, initials or logo of the certifier can be used in addition. Several control bodies have withdrawn over time, so some numbers are no longer used.

    Since January 2009 all UK certification bodies have to be accredited by UKAS according to EN 45011, which sets out general requirements for bodies operating product certification systems. The Irish Certification Bodies currently operating in the UK have been allocated IE control body numbers that replace the GB control body numbers they held prior to the new regulations are accredited in Ireland. The Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS), which used to advise Defra on the implantation of the EU organic regulations in the UK, has been closed along with its sub-committees in 2010.

    In the Republic of Ireland the Organic Farming Unit established by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (DAFRD) is responsible for all aspects of organic production including the implementation of EU regulations. Producers can either register direct with the DAFRD or with any of the three registered certification bodies: Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Ltd. (IOFGA); Organic Trust Ltd and Demeter Standards (Irl.) Ltd.

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    International standards

    At a global level, many countries have regulatory requirements similar to those in the EU, and there are formal agreements covering trade in organic products between these countries. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) include web link has formulated principles, sets international baseline standards, accredits national certification schemes to facilitate international trade and collaborates with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other international organisations to harmonise International Organic Standards. In 2001, the FAO formalised guidelines for international trade as part of its Codex Alimentarius which were revised in 2004 .

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    Adding your voice to the debate

    If you have views on organic regulations, e-mail us at comment@organicresearchcentre.com. We may put comments on this page – let us know if you would prefer us not to.

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