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Brief overview

 In June 2007 the European Council of Agricultural Ministers agreed on a new Council Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products. This Council Regulation contains defines goals, principles and general rules for organic production.

The goal of this legal framework was to set a new course for the continued development of organic farming. Sustainable cultivation systems and a variety of high-quality products are the aim. In this process, even greater emphasis is placed on environmental protection, biodiversity and high standards of animal protection. In addition, the legislation aims at ensuring consumer confidence and protecting consumers' interests.

Organic production must respect natural systems and cycles. Sustainable production should be achieved as far as possible with the help of biological and mechanical production processes, through land-related production and without the use genetically modified organisms (GMO).

In organic farming, closed cycles with the use of the internal resources and inputs are preferred to open cycles using external resources. Ideally, external resources should be organic and come from other organic farms or natural or naturally obtained materials and low soluble mineral fertilisers. In exceptional cases, however, chemical synthetic resources and inputs may be permitted if suitable alternatives are lacking. Where such products are  authorised after a thorough investigation by the Commission and the Member States, they are listed in positive lists in the Annexes of the Commission's implementing Regulation.

Foods may only be marked as "organic" if at least 95% of their agricultural ingredients are organic. Organic ingredients in non-organic food may be listed as organic in the list of ingredients, as long as this ingredient has been produced in accordance with the organic legislation. In order to ensure better transparency, the code number of the control body must be indicated.

The use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and of products manufactured from GMOs is still prohibited in organic production. Products containing GMOs may not be labelled as organic. However in the case of an adventitious or technically unavoidable presence of GMOs, a horizontal Regulation fixes a general labelling threshold under which a product does not have to indicate the presence of GMOs (Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 on genetically modified food and feed OJ L 268, 18.10.2003). This threshold is fixed at 0,9%. With a presence of GMOs below this threshold, a product may continue to be labelled organic..

According to the EU legislation, producers of packaged organic food must use the EU organic logo (as of 1 July 2010). The use of the logo on organic foods from third countries, however, is optional. When the EU organic logo is used, the place of production of the agricultural ingredients must be indicated.

The distribution of organic products from third countries on the EU market is only permitted when they are produced and controlled under the same or equivalent conditions as those for EU organic producers. The import regime was expanded with the 2007 legislation. Previously, only organic goods from third countries recognised by the EU or goods whose production was controlled by the Member States and which had received an import licence, could be imported.

The procedure for import licences has been replaced by a new import regime. Control bodies working in third countries are now directly authorised and monitored by the European Commission and the Member States.

This new procedure allows the EU Commission to supervise and monitor the import of organic products and the control of the organic guarantees. In addition, a basis for the elaboration of EU rules on organic products such as wine, products from aquaculture and seaweed was included in the new legislation.