In this chapter you can find information about:
Review of the legislation on Organic production
The revision of the European Union’s (EU) political and legal framework for organic production involves an impact assessment study. To make sure that all the possible economic, social and environmental impacts are considered, the relevant Commission services were all invited to take part in the process. In order to carry out this impact assessment an Inter-service Steering Group (ISSG) made up of the services concerned has been established.
The European Commission organised three hearings of experts in order to analyse the situation of the sector:
- The first hearing was on “The EU organic market – Internal market and standards” and took place on 27 and 28 September 2012.
- The second hearing covered issues linked to “The European Union's organic production - Controls and enforcement” (25 and 26 October 2012)
- The third one was on “International trade in organic products and global issues” (20 and 21 November 2012).
The European Commission conducted a public consultation for the review of the European policy on organic agriculture from 15 January until 10 April 2013. The public and stakeholders were consulted through an on-line questionnaire. The participation was very large! 44 846 replies to the questionnaire were received and 1 450 free contributions were sent by e-mail from citizens and various stakeholders.
The stakeholders of the organic sector have been equally consulted at several occasions when they participated in the meetings of the Advisory Group on Organic Farming (AGOF).
The results of the public consultation, together with the inputs from the stakeholders and the exchanges with the experts during the hearings, are feeding the on-going review of the political and legal framework for organic agriculture in Europe, with an overall strategy to be put forward in early 2014.
Inter-service steering group
The Inter-service steering group (ISSG) comprises Commission staff from the Departments ("Directorates-General" - DGs) who are involved in some way or another in the EU organic policy in particular DG Health and Consumers, DG Environment, DG Enterprise and Industry, DG Development and Cooperation, DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, DG Trade, DG Employment, DG Research and Innovation, DG Taxation and Customs Union, EUROSTAT and the Joint Research Center as well as the European Commission's Legal Service and the Secretariat General.
The Group is chaired by the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development which also provides the secretariat.
Expert hearing on "The EU organic market – Internal market and standards" (27-28 September 2012)
Experts and representatives of consumers, producers, retailers, processors, mass caterers, farm advisory services, research centers, animal welfare organisations, made presentations to the Inter-service Steering Group which can be found below.
Expert hearing on "The European Union's organic production - Controls and enforcement” (25-26 October 2012)
Experts and representatives of producers, retailers, certifiers, control bodies, competent authorities, border control offices, accreditation bodies, the Court of Auditors, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and DG Health and Consumers (SANCO) made presentations.
Expert hearing on "International trade in organic products and global issues" (20-21 November 2012)
Experts, academics and representatives of producers, retailers, operators, processors, third countries and associations representing third countries, traders, detection laboratories and researchers, made presentations.
Advisory Group on Organic Farming (AGOF)
The Advisory Group on Organic Farming comprises representatives of the European organic farming sector: producers and cooperatives (ECVC, COPA-COGECA, CEJA), trade (CELCAA, EUROCOMMERCE), industry (Food Drink Europe), the workers (EFFAT), the consumers (BEUC), the environmentalists (EEB, WWF-EPO, BIRDLIFE, Forum for Pastoralism and Nature Conservation), IFOAM EU Regional Group and Eurogroup for Animals.
Legislation - brief overview
On 1 January 2009 new EU regulations went into effect for the production, control and labelling of organic products. However, some of the new provisions on labelling do not take effect until 1 July 2010.
In June 2007 the European Council of Agricultural Ministers agreed to a new Council Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products. This new Council Regulation contains clearly defined goals, principles and general rules for organic production.
The goal of this new legal framework is 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 to be placed in future on environmental protection, biodiversity and high standards of animal protection.
Organic production must respect natural systems and cycles. Sustainable production should be achieved insofar 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 are preferred to open cycles with the supply of external resources. Ideally, external resources should be limited to organic resources from other organic farms, natural or naturally obtained materials and low soluble mineral fertilisers. In exceptional cases, however, chemical synthetic resources may be permitted if suitable alternatives are lacking. These are only authorised and listed in positive lists in the Annex of the Commission Regulation after a thorough investigation by the Commission and the Member States.
Since the European Union extends from the far North right down to Southern and into Eastern Europe, local climatic, cultural or structural differences can be compensated for through foreseen flexibility rules.
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 food 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 unless the ingredients containing GMOs entered the products unintentionally and the GMO proportion in the ingredient is less than 0.9%.
According to the new 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 starting on 1 July 2010.
The distribution of organic products from third countries is only permitted on the common market, when they are produced and controlled under the same or equivalent conditions. The import regime has been expanded with the new 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 will in future be replaced by a new import regime. Control bodies working in third countries will then be directly authorised and monitored by the European Commission and the Member States.
This new procedure allows the EU Commission to supervise and better monitor the import of organic products and the control of the organic guarantees. In addition, a basis for the acceptance of EU rules on organic aquaculture and seaweeds was laid in the new legislation.
In addition to a new Council Regulation, two new Commission Regulations were adopted in 2008 regulating organic production, the import and distribution of organic products as well as their labelling.
This regulation establishes the legal framework for all levels of production, distribution, control and labelling of organic products which may be offered and traded in the EU. It determines the continued development of organic production through the provision of clearly defined goals and principles. General production, control and labelling guidelines were established by the Council Regulation and can therefore only be changed by the European Council of Agricultural Ministers. The previous Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91 is simultaneously repealed.
The new labelling regulations in connection with the obligatory use of the EU organic logo were postponed until 1 July 2010 by an amendment to the Council Regulation.
Area of applicability
The Council Regulation applies to the following agricultural products, including aquaculture and yeast:
- Living or unprocessed products
- Processed foods
- Animal feed
- Seeds and propagating material
Collection of wild plants and seaweed is also included in the scope of this Regulation
Not included in its scope:
- Products from hunting and fishing of wild animals.
The following Commission Regulations have been adopted thus far:
- Commission Regulation (EC) No. 889/2008 of 5 September 2008 with detailed rules on production, labelling and control including its first amendment on production rules for organic yeast First amending Regulation, establishing new production rules for the production of organic yeast.
- Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1235/2008 of 8 December 2008 with detailed rules concerning import of organic products from third countries
In Commission Regulation (EC) No. 889/2008 all levels of plant and animal production are regulated, from the cultivation of land and keeping of animals to the processing and distribution of organic foods and their control. They go into great technical detail and are, for the most part, an extension of the original organic Regulation, except where this was regulated differently in the Council Regulation.
Multiple Annexes are attached to the Commission Regulation. Within these one can find the following:
- Products permitted in organic farming, such as fertilisers, soil ameliorants and pesticides
- Minimum requirements on the size of housing and exercise areas including pastures for organic livestock, depending on animal species and development stage.
- Non-organic animal feed, feed additives and processing aids for the production of compound feed and premixtures permitted in organic farming.
- Non-organic ingredients, additives and processing aids permitted in organic food production (including yeast production).
- Requirements on the Community logo.
These Annexes and other parts of this Commission Regulation can be supplemented by the Commission so as to keep them up to date in regard to continuing developments in technology, science and the organic market.
In order to facilitate the implementation of the new rules and to incorporate some expiring exemptions of the previous organic Regulation, transitional measures were laid down.
Moreover the Commission services have prepared a working document on official controls in the organic sector that explains certain aspects of the control system set by EU organic legislation and by EU horizontal legislation on food and feed controls. Although this document is primarily targeted at the Member States administration, it can be also used by the wider public to get a basic understanding of the functioning of official controls of organic products.
In addition to EU legislation on organic farming and organic production, organically operating farmers and processors must also adhere to generally applicable rules on agricultural production and processing of agricultural products. That means that all generally applicable rules on the regulation of the production, processing, marketing, labelling and control of agricultural products also apply to organic foods.
The usual bilateral recognition of third countries by the Commission in cooperation with the Member States shall be maintained. In doing so, the Commission, with the support of the Member States, supervises the production and control of organic products which must be aligned with the goals and principles of organic legislation, but do not have to be exactly the same. A list of recognised third countries can be found in Annex III of the Import Regulation.
The new import regulations ensure that organic products can be imported from third countries which have not yet attained bilateral recognition.
Products that are produced and controlled in precisely the same manner as in the EU should in future also have free access to the common market. Control bodies that intend to undertake such controls must apply to the EU Commission and be authorised by the Commission and the Member States for this purpose. Their supervision is directly incumbent on the Commission in cooperation with the Member States.
However, since production conditions in third countries are usually very different from those in Europe, it is often not possible to apply exactly the same rules for production or control . Therefore it must also be possible to allow similar rules that conform in principle with the goals and principles of the organic legislation.
Previously this had to be checked by the Member States for each individual product in an import authorisation procedure. This complicated system will now be replaced by a simpler system. In future, control bodies approved for this purpose will be able to carry out this inspection in situ. These control bodies must also be directly approved for this purpose by the EU Commission and the Member States and remain under their direct supervision. Guidelines have been published that explain how control bodies can apply to get approved, how they should be supervised and which other measures are necessary in relation to imports of organic products and their control.
In future, the new import regulations will facilitate organic imports into the EU on the whole whilst at the same time promoting better monitoring, thus counteracting deception and fraud.
In 1991 the European Council of Agricultural Ministers adopted Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91 on organic farming and the corresponding labelling of agricultural products and foods. The introduction of this Regulation was part of the reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy and represented the conclusion of a process through which organic agriculture received the official recognition of the 15 states which were EU members at the time.
At first, the organic Regulation only regulated plant products. Additional provisions for the production of animal products were introduced later. These rules included animal feed, prevention of illness, veterinary treatment, animal protection, livestock breeding in general and the use of livestock manure.
The use of genetically modified organisms and products produced from them was expressly excluded from organic production. At the same time, the import of organic products from third countries whose production criteria and systems of control could be recognised as equivalent to those of the EU was approved.
As a result of this ongoing process of supplementation and amendment, the provisions contained in Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91 have become very complex and extensive.
The level of importance that the original EU organic Regulation enjoyed laid in the fact that it created common minimum standards for the entire EU. In this process, the confidence of consumers, who could purchase organic products from other member states with the certainty that these products fulfilled the same minimum requirements, was strengthened. It was left up to the member states and private organisations to enact their own additional stricter standards.
A fundamental principle in organic farming is the use of seeds produced organically by agricultural operations. The member states maintain an online database in order to facilitate the acquisition of such seeds. Suppliers can enter organically produced seeds and seed potatoes that are available for purchase in this list.
For more information, see the database(s).
Decisions such as those pertaining to new Regulations on organic farming are made with the participation of different European institutions.
New EU legislation, such as Council Regulation (EC) No. 834/2007, were recommended by the Commission (through the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development), enacted by the European Council of Agricultural Ministers and ultimately approved after consultation in Parliament. Only then was it legally valid. More information about this procedure can be found online.
Commission Regulation (EC) No. 889/2008 was proposed by the Commission and had to be supported by the Member States in the regulating committee, the Standing Committee on Organic Farming. In this process, the representatives of the Member States in the Standing Committee must agree to the recommendation with a qualified majority.
The Standing Committee on Organic Farming consists of representatives of the Member States. A representative of the Commission has the chair.
The Committee was established in order to ensure close cooperation with the authorities responsible for the organic sector and guarantee uniform application of EU organic legislation.
The minutes of the most recent meetings of the Committee can be found online.
The European Commission also works with two additional bodies that support its decision-making in matters of organic agriculture:
- The “Organic Farming” advisory committee
- The group experts for the promotion of organic farming
The advisory committee brings together representatives of different technical and economic interest groups such as IFOAM, BEUC, COPA/COCEGA, COFALEC and others. This facilitates an exchange of experiences and opinions on different topics relating to organic production in order to promote the continued development of organic legislation.
The group of experts for the promotion of organic farming for its part advises the Commission in questions concerning information and promotion campaigns for organic agriculture, which are implemented as part of the European Action Plan for Organic Food and Farming.
The Commission can consult the advisory committee and the group of experts on all occasions; at the same time, the chairs of the Commission can submit their proposals and request that the advisory committee or the group of experts be consulted on issues within their area of expertise.
Decisions in the advisory committee or in the group of experts are not binding on the Commission, but they are taken very seriously and members are informed of all activities undertaken in connection with these decisions.
Further important contributions of these two bodies are:
- Establishment of close cooperation between international organisations, the organisations of the Member States and the Commission
- Observation of developments in the political sphere
- Support of the exchange of information, experience and proven methods
The Member States and the European Commission use the information system as a key instrument for the exchange of agricultural data relating to organic products and for the provision of current information for the public.
The OFIS database contains:
- The approvals of member countries for the marketing of products imported from third countries
- The permissions for the temporary use of ingredients of conventional agricultural origin which cannot be organically produced in sufficient quantities
- The list of control bodies or control authorities
The public website of the OFIS can be reached here.
All products that bear the EU organic logo have been produced in accordance with the EU Regulation on organic farming. They therefore promote the trust of consumers regarding the origin and quality of their foods and beverages.
It is currently optional for organic producers to label their products with the EU organic logo. Starting on 1 July 2010, however, use of the logo is mandatory. An advantage of the EU organic logo is the fact that consumers in all Member States can more easily recognise organic products, regardless of their origin.
The logo can be downloaded in all image formats.