What will the next Organic Regulation look like?

For an unexpected start, the European Commission is in the middle of developing another Organic Regulation. By early next year, the proposal for a new organic regulation will be presented by the Commission to the Parliament and Council of Ministers – yes, that’s another trilogue starting. So what’s the process?

organic juice

An online consultation, which 45000 people contributed to was part of this process. What’s called an Inter-service Steering Group (ISSG) made up of Directorates General of a range of policy areas, including environment, trade, research, consumers, chaired by Agriculture, was established.

The European Commission organised three hearings of experts to analyse the situation of the sector.

These were on “The EU organic market – Internal market and standards”; “The European Union’s organic production – Controls and enforcement” and “International trade in organic products and global issues”.

After these came the public on-line consultation, to which the 45000 people contributed.

The Commission claims it is aiming for an easier to understand, more transparent regulation to include fewer, better explained exceptions. It should also promote the growth of the organic sector through increased quality, it says.

IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, noted in the September edition of their newsletter how the dynamic for this entirely new organic regulation came from what was supposed to be a relatively minor review of controls and imports in 2012.

Understandably, they see this as both a threat and an opportunity, as numerous stakeholders always try to shape regulatory changes on this scale.

IFOAM carry an interesting position on this, which reflects one of the things that’s different about organic farming and food – its food system connectivity from one end to the other, even in ethos terms.

So they empathise with consumers’ desires for strong organic rules, while also empathising with farmers’ needs for viable production on a reasonable scale.

As Marco Schluter, IFOAM  EU director said in the September newsletter:

“IFOAM EU will be the first one to applaud if the Commission (COM) delivers a well drafted proposal. We clearly support a principle-driven development of the regulation. For us, this is a step-by-step development.”

However, he cited a real note of caution:  “A radical elimination of all exceptional rules – as considered in COM option 3 – would cause a collapse of the organic sector, taking into account that the Commission considers also some existing permanent rules to be exceptions.”

The fear is, Schluter claims, that in a worst case scenario “the new regulation proposal could abandon important elements of the current regulation and could be detrimental to the viability of the organic sector.”

In the 45000 person on line survey, some countries seemed to understand the need for exceptions and exemptions, others did not. So it will be a significant undertaking  to bring along all stakeholders.

IFOAM argue that “the organic sector must mobilise to influence the co-decision process within the European Parliament and Council to ensure the regulation finally adopted reflects the practical reality and possibilities of operators.”

They also note that this is part of a wider development of an EU wide Organic Action Plan, and contextualised by Rural Development Plans, a new round of EU wide research proposals,  and of course the ubiquitous CAP reform, much of which is being implemented at national level. However, Schluter worries that this new Organic Action Plan will come out before any of these bed down.

Chief among these may turn out to be the CAP’s EIP – European Innovation Partnership – which may prove to be the strongest driver for the organic sector in many years.