New Organic Regulation Causing Temperatures to Rise

One of the main themes which emerged from the 8th European Organic Congress, which Arc2020 co-organised and which Oliver Moore attended, was producer concern over the proposed new organic regulation.

Organic farmers, lawyers who represent them, certification bodies, trade unions and IFOAM as an organisation all voiced concerns about many aspects of the proposed regulation.

Speaking directly with IFOAM EU president Christopher Stopes, he told me:

“While we haven’t adopted a full agreed position on the regulation as of yet, we do have some significant concerns. There are two in particular. The first is proposal that there should be no allowance for mixed organic and conventional holdings. We think the separation protocols are adequate at the moment. The other one would be on pesticide thresholds, where decertification and liability would be placed on the organic farmer. This would be completely inappropriate as contamination can happen elsewhere in the supply chain. It holds the organic farmer, who doesn’t use pesticides, liable for contamination from the conventional farmer or elsewhere”

This latter point on accidental or inadvertent contamination was the hot topic of the week. The problem is that the organic food system is, inevitably, longer, more complicated and more interconnected than ever before. That said, it is still a relatively small part of the overall food system.

Organic farms are often surrounded by conventional ones, and organic food is often packed or processed in houses that also handle conventional produce. Conventional packing houses routinely use fungicides to clean houses for example. Organic foods can be packed in these houses too. Though there are controls, they can only do so much at the micro level.

In these contexts, the potential for pesticide residues to inadvertently end up somewhere in the organic food chain is high.

So who is liable? How does the organic farmer get compensated when organic food is taken out of the certification system, through no fault of the organic farmer?

Already this has emerged as a contentious point, as speakers from the floor at the Congress pointed out.

An example was given by a Danish organic farming representative, of two organic farmers who received E30,000 in compensation from a conventional farming Union. These two farmers had food withdrawn from the organic system. A particular pesticide company controlled 90% of the production of this pesticide in Denmark, the speaker pointed out, but refused to accept liability. The organic farmers themselves could prove, via audited accounts, inspections and other means, that they did not use these pesticides. While it was likely that pesticide drift from a nearby farmer caused it, or it came from some other inadvertent source, no individual farmer could be blamed.

Things got heated when, under pressure from the organic farming lobby, the pesticide company threatened to pull that product out of the country altogether, rather than accept any liability. In this context, to prevent the withdrawal, the conventional farming Union stepped in to compensate the organic farmers.

The new regulation will set the pesticide threshold for testing in organic so strictly that this sort of case may come up more and more often.

Another contributor from the floor, German attorney-at-law Hanspeter Schmidt was very vocal on issues with the new Regulation. His exchanges with Joao Onofre of the EU Commission’s Organic Farming Unit were especially heated.

Schmidt favours withdrawing the Regulation altogether, and starting afresh, as happened with the Seed Regulation recently.

As well as the above point on residues and thresholds, he is concerned that third country equivalency will allow inputs banned under EU organic rules to be sold as organic in the EU.

In fact, this is allowable with US EU organic equivalency, which has been signed into law already. At present, this is more a theoretical problem than a practical one, notwithstanding regulatory chill. This will become a more significant issue again if TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – is finalised. This would then open up the EU to US organic, and visa versa.

More and more third country agreements are being entered into by the EU, Schmidt pointed out, and some involve foods already on sale in the EU. In all cases, there are potential discrepancies which will make the playing field unlevel. These products are competing with the products of EU farmers.

One gets the feeling that eitherways, Schmidt and his cohorts will have many lucrative days in court.

More on the proposed Organic Regulations (May 2014)

More from Oliver Moore

Oliver Moore
About Oliver Moore 185 Articles
DR. Oliver Moore is the communications director and editor-in-chief with ARC2020. He has a PhD in the sociology of farming and food, where he specialised in organics and direct sales. He is published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology and the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. A weekly columnist and contributor with Irish Examiner, he is a regular on Countrywide (Irish farm radio show on the national broadcaster RTE 1) and engages in other communications work around agri-food and rural issues, such as with the soil, permaculture, climate change adaptation and citizen science initiative Grow Observatory . He lectures part time in the Centre for Co-operative Studies UCC                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Oliver voyage beaucoup moins qu’auparavant, pour ce qui concerne son activité professionnelle. Il peut néanmoins admirer par la fenêtre de son bureau les mésanges charbonnières et les corbeaux perchés au sommet du saule dans le jardin de sa maison au cœur de l’écovillage de Cloughjordan, en Irlande. L’écovillage est un site de 67 acres dans le nord du Tipperary. Il comprend d’espaces boisés, des paysages comestibles, des lieux de vie, d’habitation et de travail, ainsi qu’une ferme appartenant à la communauté. Les jours où il travaille dans le bureau du centre d’entreprise communautaire, il profite d’une vue sur les chevaux, les panneaux solaires, les toilettes sèches et les jardins familiaux.  Ce bureau au sein de l’écovillage constitue en effet un tiers-lieu de travail accueillant également des collaborateurs des associations Cultivate et Ecolise, ainsi qu’un laboratoire de fabrication (« fab lab »).  Oliver est membre du conseil d’administration de la ferme communautaire (pour la seconde fois !) et donne également des cours sur le Master en coopératives, agroalimentaire et développement durable à l’University College Cork. Il a une formation en sociologie rurale : son doctorat et les articles qu’il publie dans des journaux scientifiques portent sur ce domaine au sens large. Il consacre la majorité de son temps de travail à l’ARC 2020. Il collabore avec ARC depuis 2013, date à laquelle l’Irlande a assuré la présidence de l’UE pendant six mois. C’est là qu’il a pu constater l’importance de la politique agroalimentaire et rurale grâce à sa chronique hebdomadaire sur le site d’ARC. Après six mois, il est nommé rédacteur en chef et responsable de la communication, poste qu’il occupe toujours aujourd’hui. Oliver supervise le contenu du site web et des médias sociaux, aide à définir l’orientation de l’organisation et parfois même rédige un article pour le site web.  À l’époque où on voyageait davantage, il a eu la chance de passer du temps sous les tropiques, où il a aidé des ONG irlandaises de commerce équitable – au Ghana, au Kenya, au Mali, en Inde et au Salvador – à raconter leur histoire.  Il se peut que ces jours-là reviennent. Pour son compte Oliver continuera de préférer naviguer en Europe par bateau, puis en train. Après tout, la France n’est qu’à une nuit de navigation. En attendant, il y a toujours de nombreuses possibilités de bénévolat dans la communauté dans les campagnes du centre de l’Irlande.