Select Committee on European Communities Sixteenth Report


Regulation 2092/91

69. There was general support from witnesses and other Member States for minimum legally binding organic standards (QQ 12, 117, 245, pp 226, 268, 279, 287, 289, 290, 305, 325). Dr Lampkin said that "standards protect bona fide producers from sub-standard or fraudulent competition and provide the quality assurance that consumers seek in terms of satisfying their health, environmental and animal welfare aspirations" (p 45), and the common framework established by Regulation 2092/91 may well be one of the major drivers of the rapid recent growth of the organic sector. Various witnesses did, however, express concerns about particular aspects of the regime established by Regulation 2092/91.

70. It has already been suggested that some of the substances approved under Regulation 2092/91 are anomalous (paragraph 27). Several witnesses said that copper sulphate and sulphur fungicide sprays were toxic substances and should not be approved for use on organic farms. The Co-operative Wholesale Society argued that the conventional equivalent fungicide to copper sulphate (Mancozeb) was far less severe in terms of its environmental effect than copper sulphate (Q 290, pp 79, 81). Copper is due to be withdrawn from the approved list at the end of March 2002, and may only be used where a need for it has been recognised by the sector body with which the farmer is registered. One witness also contended that the accumulation of copper in soil was a problem in relation to grapevine and fruit production in other EU countries, but not in UK potato production, and that the ending of the permission to use it would "particularly harm the developing organic seed potato production industry in Scotland" (p 213). However, other substances which were criticised, such as rotenone (p 164) and sulphur (p 79) are not due to have their approvals withdrawn.

71. Mr Hassett, whose company Edward Billington and Son Ltd. is involved in producing and importing organic sugar, criticised the provisions of Regulation 2092/91 relating to the processing of organic food. The Regulation currently covers very simple processing such as washing, "but apart from supplying approved lists of processing aids, additives and non-organic ingredients, and establishing the principle of separation of organic from conventional processing, it is largely silent on the subject of complex processing" [44].

72. Mr Hassett stated that, because there is no clear philosophy underpinning the processing as opposed to the production part of the Regulation, it has been easier for food manufacturers to lobby for various aids and additives to be approved for use in "organic" processing. Under pressure from the German sugar beet processing industry the European Commission approved the use of sodium hydroxide and sulphuric acid for processing beet sugar, but these products were not essential - merely useful - for making beet sugar. Mr Hassett argued that the Commission should not dilute organic processing standards any further, and should evaluate any applications to use new substances by asking: "is this substance essential (rather than helpful) to the process, could the end product be produced in another way without it, and finally does it accord with organic principles?" (p 180). In mitigation, the Government noted that, particularly in relation to processing, some products were necessary in order to comply with statutory hygiene requirements (Q 652, see also p 290).

73. The Committee thinks it is important that there should be a clear and intelligible basis for organic standards for both production and processing, and so urges that the standards should be underpinned by detailed scientific research. The establishment of a technical committee in UKROFS is a welcome step in this direction, and we hope that the recently increased funding for organic research and development will also be of assistance.

74. Any attempts to dilute standards further should be resisted, and for this reason it is important that the sector bodies remain closely involved in standard setting. The standards are essential to retain consumer confidence, and while we note that the use of copper-based fungicides is due to be phased out, the Committee does not think that consumers would expect such products to be used in the production of organic food. Other anomalous substances were also cited which are not due to have their approvals withdrawn. The Committee recommends that research into the identification of less toxic alternatives should be given priority, and suggests that one of the first tasks of the new UKROFS technical committee should be to review the substances which are currently approved by the European Commission, and then make appropriate recommendations to the article 14 management committee.

75. Witnesses were also concerned about the lack of organic seeds throughout Europe, because the current permission to use conventional seeds when organic seeds are not available was due to end on 31 December[45]. In relation to the UK, NABIM (the association of UK flour millers) confirmed that the ending of the derogation would cause problems and could "prove a major impediment to the growth of organic production" (p 292). A survey by another witness found that all suppliers of organic seeds to gardeners in the UK obtained them from abroad (from firms in Holland, the USA and France) (p 320), and the Elm Farm Research Centre confirmed that the UK was not ready for the end of the derogation. In recognition of these problems, MAFF are funding a working group composed of people from the seed industry, farmers, researchers and policy makers to investigate the availability of organic seed. The working group will talk to suppliers and growers to try to establish a balance between likely supply and demand. Mr Haward of the Soil Association was quoted as saying "at present there is not enough organic seed available and our concern is that seed producers need more time to develop their stock"[46]. Given the improbability of the problem being solved by the end of this year, it is welcome that the amendment to Regulation 2092/91 agreed at the Agriculture Council in June 1999 extended the derogation on the use of conventional seeds to the end of 2004.

Regulation 2092/91: livestock amendment

76. The Agriculture Council agreed the livestock amendment in June this year. The amended Regulation will apply to livestock and unprocessed livestock products, and certain processed livestock products. It is intended that another Regulation will be adopted to cover organic feedingstuffs. Earlier in our enquiry various witnesses criticised particular aspects of what was then the proposal for an amendment, and these views have presumably not changed now that agreement has been reached.

77. The Consumers in Europe Group and others said that the proposal to allow non-organic stock to be 'converted' to organic status after they had been kept in organic conditions for a certain period of time would undermine consumer confidence and Mrs Browning said that the UK should not permit the practice even if it was eventually included in the Regulation[47]. The Co-operative Wholesale Society noted that the current UK requirement for organic animals to be born on an organic holding could make it difficult for conventional farmers to convert (p 79).

78. VEERU were critical of the part of the proposal which stipulated that animals treated with antimicrobials twice in their lifetime would lose their organic status, as they thought that this might lead to the withholding of necessary treatment[48]. They also felt that the amendment did not give enough emphasis to positive health care, such as the development of animal health plans, which are included in the current UKROFS and Soil Association standards (Q 445).

79. Other witnesses opposed the proposal to allow certain Member States a derogation which would allow them to tether animals, because this is regarded as poor welfare[49]. There is a concern that too many derogations will give farmers in certain Member States unfair advantages over the others, but at the same time farming practices and conditions do vary widely across the EU. The EU standards must achieve a balance in order to reflect these two conflicting pressures, and there was general agreement about the principle of extending Regulation 2092/91 to livestock (QQ 16, 191, 231, 635). There may well be shortcomings in the final text, but set against this is the importance of getting a reasonable EU-wide set of standards in place. The Government noted that, while the new standards were in some ways less strict than the old UK standards, and those of some other Member States, such as France, they were a considerable improvement on some of the standards that have up till now been applied in other Member States. It may be possible by future amendments to raise the standards, and until then UK sector bodies may, if they wish, set higher standards for their own members (Q 636).

80. The Committee welcomes the agreement of the livestock amendment to Regulation 2092/91, if not every detail of it, and now that it has been adopted, the Committee considers that the Government and European Commission should view as a priority the adoption of standards for areas still not adequately covered by Regulation 2092/91, such as fish farming and complex processing. Consumer confidence is vital for the organic sector, and the Committee urges the Government to implement the amendment in a way which does not jeopardise this confidence.

The United Kingdom: UKROFS and the sector bodies

81. It was said that the rate of expansion in the organic sector was placing great pressure on both the sector bodies and UKROFS. The sector bodies receive more fee income from their increased membership, but UKROFS does not. And UKROFS is not simply an advisory body; it is responsible for the implementation of Regulation 2092/91 in the UK. Some witnesses argued that MAFF should increase the funding of UKROFS to help it to cope with its growing workload (pp 21, 180). The Government said they had made some extra resources available but argued that the increase in the size of the sector did not necessarily mean that UKROFS would have more work to do (QQ 638-9). In relation to the composition of the UKROFS board, the NFU argued that the need for continuity in standard setting and enforcement meant that there was "a strong case for a relaxation of the Nolan rules governing the length of member service in the interests of sound policy making" (p 21, see also p 180).

82. The Committee hopes that the Minister will bear this in mind and notes that some flexibility has been exercised in the recent round of appointments to the Board[50]. In relation to the funding of UKROFS, any permanent increase in workload, particularly including certification of imports, should be matched by a proportionate increase in funding. This is important if consumers are to retain their faith that the organic sector is properly regulated and they can trust the authenticity of the organic label.

Enforcement of standards

83. The Local Authorities Coordinating Body on Food and Trading Standards (LACOTS) said that it had "no evidence to suggest that local authorities have difficulties in enforcing the Organic Products Regulations 1992 or that the requirements of the Regulations are not being adhered to in the UK"[51]. The situation is complicated by the fact that organic products are not necessarily any different from those which are produced conventionally, and so it is impossible to test the products themselves to prove that they have been produced organically (Q 78). A large number of witnesses said that overall the system was rigorous (QQ 69, 98, 128, 327, p 233).


84. Some witnesses, including the Government, said that they had no reason to doubt the effectiveness of the procedures governing imports[52] (QQ 99, 158, 193, 341, 637). Others cited anecdotal evidence of cheating but were unable to produce any evidence (QQ 327, 550, pp 21, 232). It has proved exceedingly difficult to obtain any idea of the scale of any fraud (p 197). There was criticism of the reliance on documentation and the lack of actual inspections in the EU's import approval process. The Soil Association described it as "seriously inadequate ... virtually a paper procedure" (Q 12), and some Member States identified a need to tighten up the procedure for imports from countries outside the EU (pp 227, 279, 317). It was proposed that the EU should work more closely with IFOAM, which in the last few years has set up its own accreditation organisation (the International Organic Accreditation Service) that makes greater use of on-farm visits to ensure the authenticity of organic products (QQ 12, 158, 244). These concerns contrast with the arrangements for importation made by many individual importers. Mr Hassett, for example, was able to describe in precise detail exactly how his company imported sugar from only one factory in Paraguay which produces only organic sugar and is closely monitored by an American certification body as well as by the Soil Association (Q 541).

85. Given the increasing likelihood that producers and processors will be attracted to the organic sector by the available profits, and the current impossibility of testing produce to prove its authenticity, we do not think it is sufficient to rely on a paper-based system for organic imports. For produce entering the EU we recommend that the Commission works closely with IFOAM to develop a system which includes on-the-spot checks by inspectors working for the EU. In the longer term globally recognised standards should be established and observed.

Genetically Modified Organisms

86. The organic movement has strongly opposed the use of genetic modification in agriculture, and this antipathy was confirmed by several witnesses in the course of our enquiry (QQ 35, 92, 640, pp 92, 288). This Committee recently examined the introduction of GM crops and found that there were potential advantages and also potential risks. We concluded that the regulatory system should be strengthened, but that there was no reason to ban GMOs outright[53]. Without wishing to go over that ground again, the Committee considers that the Government must help the organic movement and conventional farmers who intend to use GM crops to reach some kind of modus vivendi, respecting as far as possible the wishes of both sides. Both UKROFS and the new Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission should have central roles in this process. The Soil Association's threat to withdraw certification from crops which may have suffered some cross-contamination from genetically modified crops raises a dangerous precedent, and is by no means supported by all in the organic movement[54]. Organic farmers believe that pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers should not be used, but they do not seek to deny other farmers the right to use them, and organic standards do not require the withdrawal of certification from crops which are contaminated by pesticide drifting across from a neighbouring field. The IACR stated that "there is now so much air pollution and such a widespread distribution of pollutants throughout the whole globe that it is very difficult to grow an organic crop without some residue of something from somewhere in the world being deposited on it" (Q 484). We hope that the organic movement will accept the right of other farmers to choose to use genetically modified crops which have passed the rigorous UK and EU approval system. A recent report by the John Innes Centre argued that organic and GM farmers will need to agree isolation distances and other measures[55], and that there was a need to establish "acceptable levels of the presence of GM material in organic crops"[56]. It will be vital to find an acceptable compromise over minimum set distances between organic and GM crops, similar to the rules for preserving seed purity, which specify required distances between crops grown for seed production and all other crops that could result in cross pollination.

44   p 179. "Complex" processing is that which goes beyond simply cleaning and packaging the product. The Regulation only applies to processed agricultural crops (and, when amended, livestock products) intended for human consumption which are prepared "essentially" from one or more ingredients of plant (and/or animal) origin (Article 1). The permitted ingredients and processing aids which may be used in the preparation of foodstuffs are listed in Annex VI of the Regulation.  Back

45   UKROFS Standards for organic food production, Chapter 2, 4.15(i). Back

46   Farming News, 18 June 1999; Agra Europe, 11 June 1999. Back

47   QQ 13, 191, 230, 345, p 298. This criticism applied only to animals for meat production and not to any others, such as dairy cows or poultry for egg production, which could under UK livestock standards be converted after a set period of time. The relevant provision of the working text of the amendment to Regulation 2092/91 dated 9 June is given in Annex I(B), paragraph 2.2. Back

48   The amendment as eventually adopted was even more restrictive. The working text of the amendment dated 9 June stated that animals could not be sold as organic if, except for vaccinations, parasite treatment schemes and any compulsory eradication schemes, "an animal or group of animals receive more than two or a maximum of three courses of allopathic treatments with chemically-synthesised allopathic medicinal products or antibiotics within one year (or more than one course of treatment if their productive lifecycle is less than 1 year)" (Annex I(B), paragraph 5). Back

49   QQ 130, 192. Annex I(B), paragraph 6.1 of the working text of the amendment. Back

50   See MAFF press release 220/99. Back

51   p 288. The 1992 Regulations implemented in the UK the European Council Regulation 2092/91. Back

52   See paragraph 13. Back

53   The EC Regulation of Genetic Modification in Agriculture (18th Report, Session 1997-98, HL Paper 11-I and II). Back

54   The Times of 2 June reported that Organic Farmers & Growers Ltd had said they would certify the organic crop of one farmer threatened with losing Soil Association certification because he was growing GM oilseed rape as well as organic beans. Back

55   In particular to ensure that shared machinery is cleaned and that an appropriate period of time is allowed before organic crops are grown on land previously used by GM crops. Back

56   CL Moyes and PJ Dale, Organic Farming and Gene Transfer from Genetically Modified Crops (John Innes Centre, May 1999), page 2. Back

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