The European Commission has recently announced that it is due to review the political and legal framework for organic farming in the EU this September, a move which will address concerns about the implementation of the current legislation on organic farming and will ultimately, the Commission hopes, strengthen the sector. Whether it does or not is open to question, but the prospect of this far-reaching legislative reform points to a period of upheaval in the organic farming sector.
The rules on organic farming are currently set out in Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 on organic production and labelling. The proposed changes come about because of Article 41 of this regulation, which requires a report to be submitted to the Council reviewing experiences of applying the regulation and allows the Commission to accompany the report with relevant proposals.
The ensuing report, titled ‘The application of the European organic farming regulation’ highlighted concerns from Member States and stakeholders’ experiences of implementing the regulation, which centred mainly on the production of organic goods and the functioning of the internal market in organic products. A discussion of the report between the European Parliament and Council of Ministers resulted in the decision to hold a review of the 2007 regulation and unveil a roadmap for organic farming next month.
The principal areas expected to be examined in the Commission’s upcoming roadmap are; the impact of cross fertilisation of organic products with genetically modified organisms, the enforcement and monitoring of organic food certification and labelling and the increasing number and treatment of third countries’ applications to be considered equivalent to EU organic standards. The roadmap will also consider updating a decade-old action plan on organic farming, the European Action Plan for Organic Farming 2004.
Consideration of the impact of genetically modified crops – a hugely controversial topic in Europe – and certification standards will undoubtedly be welcomed by those in the organic farming sector, as they believe that it will lead to increased consumer confidence in the integrity of organic products. Additionally, the update of the action plan on organic farming could pave the way for an expansion in organic farming, a potentially significant reform that would be welcomed by organic farmers; organic farming remains a tiny part of European agriculture at present, with only 2.2% of EU farmland currently organic.
It seems then that the Commission’s upcoming roadmap on organic farming will bring about an overhaul of the rules governing organic farming in the EU to the benefit of those in the organic farming sector. As with all proposals touching agriculture in the EU, however, expect the legislative process to be long, lengthy and fraught.