ORGANIC PRODUCTION AND THE LABELLING OF
ORGANIC PRODUCTS (5101/06)
Letter from the Chairman to Lord Bach,
Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food, Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs
Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum of
26 January 2006 which Sub Committee D (Environment and Agriculture)
considered at its meeting today.
The Committee did not find the Explanatory Memorandum
particularly helpful in setting out the Government's position
on this proposal. We would be grateful if you could inform the
Committee whether the Government are in favour or otherwise of
the proposal for a new regulation on organic production; and whether
there are any areas of the proposal which you will seek to amend
The proposal aims to ensure flexibility in the
new organic framework by allowing Member States, under the comitology
procedure, to apply less strict production rules to account for
variation in local climatic, development and specific production
conditions. As this mechanism is not mentioned in the Explanatory
Memorandum, we would like to receive more information about how
the derogations would work and what safeguards would be in place
to prevent abuse of their use.
The Committee would also welcome a comparison
of how current UK standards on organic production differ with
the proposed EU framework of standards as set out in the proposal.
In the meantime, the Committee decided to retain the proposal
16 February 2006
Letter from Lord Bach to the Chairman
Thank you for your letter of 16 February following
consideration by Sub Committee D (Environment and Agriculture)
of the Explanatory Memorandum on the above proposal. I am of course
sorry that the Committee did not find the Memorandum helpful in
clarifying the Government's position. I am also sorry for the
delay in replying to you. I hope that this letter will assist
the Committee in its discussions, and I attach for your reference
a more detailed outline of the UK position.
You raised two areas of particular concern for
the Committee: first, the flexibility element of the proposal,
and secondly, how the proposal compares with the current regulation.
We support the concept of flexibility. A Community
of 25 Member States with widely varying climatic and production
conditions cannot realistically seek to apply detailed organic
rules with absolute uniformity; there needs to be provision for
meeting different circumstances. There must be the capacity to
deal with transient emergencies, such as drought or flooding or
outbreaks of disease, such as avian influenza. Further, historic
production techniques underpinning traditional products in different
Member States may need recognition. However, it is clear that
providing for flexibility carries with it the risk of trade distortion
if there remains scope for it be applied too liberally. Achieving
the right balance is a major concern for the UK and for other
Member States not only in the context of the proposal currently
under discussion but also in relation to the detailed rules which
the Commission will propose later in order to put it into effect.
With regard to the comparison of this proposal
to the current regulation, we do not think that the framework
changes any of the principles underpinning the existing organic
standards as contained in Council Regulation 2092/91 which the
Commission proposal will replace. However a full comparison cannot
be made until we have seen the detailed implementing rules, which
are to be laid down at a later date after the adoption of the
framework legislation. That said, we have had confirmation from
the Commission that their intention is that the majority of the
detailed rules are to be translated without technical change from
those in Council Regulation 2092/91. These will be adopted by
Committee procedure, though the precise form of the procedure,
whether regulatory committee or management committee, is one of
the issues to be settled in the negotiation on the Commission
proposal. Our preferenceand that of most other Member Statesis
for the regulatory committee procedure. It has worked well for
the purposes of Council Regulation 2092/91 and in our view provides
a proper balance between the need for the Commission to be able
to progress matters and the need for an effective role for the
I hope this and the attached note are helpful
to the Committee.
1 May 2006
UK POSITION ON COMMISSION PROPOSAL FOR A
COUNCIL REGULATION ON ORGANIC PRODUCTION AND LABELLING OF ORGANIC
1. In general terms the UK welcomes the
Commission proposal. The proposal implements a number of the actions
in the European Organic Action Plan endorsed by the Council in
October 2004. By setting out a clear statement of basic principles
and operating rules the proposal should establish a firmer basis
on which organic standards are to be based. By providing scope
for controls to be carried out on the basis of risk, it should
reduce their negative impacts and make them more effective. For
example, this approach provides the opportunity to apply appropriately
light controls to the storage and sale of very low-risk material
like pre-packed goods. From the initial discussions at Working
Group level it seems that the Commission's intention is to translate
the majority of the detailed rules from the current regulation.
We would welcome this.
2. We are still in consultation internally
and with the stakeholder groups concerned. In addition, a wider
internal consultation on coexistence between GM and other crops
is soon to be launched. The Government will not wish to take a
firm position on these provisions of the Commission's proposalother
than to maintain an open minduntil the results of this
consultation have been collated, which is not expected to be until
Title ISubject matter, scope and definitions
3. There is support within the organic sector
in the UK for taking the opportunity created by the Commission
proposal to make provision for setting organic standards at EU
level in the future for a much wider range of products including
textiles and personal care productson the lines of the
approach the Commission proposes for aquaculture. There is also
support with the organic sector in the UK for providing for controls
on catering establishments providing organic food. More consultation
on these issues will be required within the UK before we will
be able to take a position on extending the scope of the proposal.
However, we have noted the Commission's view that extending the
scope of controls on organic products beyond those proposed for
control is not yet appropriate.
Title IIObjectives and principles for organic
5. We would like point a (i) to convey a
more positive message. We would suggest redrafting Article 3 (a)
(i) so that it reads "contributes to the sustainability of
6. We feel that there should be an addition
to (d), to require that recycling wastes must not cause a risk
to human or animal health. It would be helpful to know what manner
of recycling is to be permitted. Might recycling take place anywhere
or is waste from organic farms to be required to be recycled within
the organic system as is currently the case for poultry manure?
When basing detailed provisions on point (f)the second
onethe particular position of many pig and poultry enterprises
which often do not have arable enterprises from which feed can
be produced needs to be borne in mind.
Title IIIProduction Rules
7. As is noted in paragraph 2 above, the
UK is not yet able to take a position on the provisions in the
proposal bearing on GMOs. However we feel that the drafting of
Article 7 is unclear and needs more work. Suggested wording which
might clarify what we understand to be the intention of the proposal
is at Annex I to this note. Also, we think that there are questions
remaining to be answered on the practicality for farmers of seeking
to comply with such a requirement in respect of products produced
from GMOs. There are questions remaining to be answered as to
what happens if a product is found to have a GM content below
0.9%. In that event, must the product not be used in organic production
or is it to be understood that if the GM content is below the
labelling threshold, the requirement not to use GMOs is complied
with? In other words, is the intention that there should be a
threshold of 0.9% for the GM content of organic food?
9. The paragraph (a) should be redrafted
to read "prior to the first growing season of crops which
are to be marketed as organic, products not permitted to be used
in organic farming shall not have been used for a period to be
defined in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article
31(2)". This is because products should not be sold as organic
from the first point at which organic production methods are applied.
Organic production methods have to apply from the start of the
conversion period and it is not until after the completion of
the conversion period that marketing as organic can commence.
10. We welcome the Commission's confirmation
that separation of the production of organic feed from the production
of conventional feed can be achieved either in time or space.
The UK is unable to accept a requirement for feed for organic
livestock to be produced on dedicated feed lines.
11. The UK feels that it is too early to
remove the possibility of declaring the presence of organic ingredients
when the content of organic products of agricultural origin is
70% or more, but is not 95%. This facility assists new entrants
to the organic sector as well as the development of new products
and so is useful in assisting the further development of the sector.
12. Like a number of other Member States
we are supportive of providing for the flexible application of
organic standards where it is appropriate to do so. But also in
common with a number of other Member States we have concerns about
the practical effect of applying flexibility and its possible
impact in terms of competition.
13. There has been unease in the UK at the
proposal that organic products should carry the EU logo or be
labelled with the term "EU ORGANIC". We are reflecting
on whether any sort of accommodation can be reached which will
deal with these concerns and will be consulting further with consumer
14. The UK welcomes the risk-based approach
to control systems.
15. The UK agrees that it should be possible
to exempt retailers selling pre-packed products from the inspection
system. We also think that there should be a similar possibility
to exempt warehouse operators handling only pre-packed goods.
16. The UK position on this article is not
confirmed as present. We recognise that the proposal aims to improve
the functioning of the single market in organics. But we also
feel that the wording of this Article is unclear and doubt that
it expresses exactly what it is intended to achieve. We have accordingly
asked for confirmation of what is intended and clarification of
The Commission have ageed that this article
is not drafted in a way that makes its intentions clear and intend
to provide us with a re-draft.
Title VITrade withThird Countries
17. The possibility of allowing EU control
bodies directly to control third country organic producers is
acceptable in principle, as is the Commission recognising particular
third countries or prticular third country control bodies.
18. However, introducing the possibility
of basing the assessment of equivalence on Codex Alimentarious
is a concern. Codex is a set of international standards for the
production of food, designed to facilitate international trade.
But these standards are essentially guidelines and anyway there
is not yet a complete set of Codex organic standards. Potentially,
basing equivalence on Codex will weaken control and allow in products
produced to standards less strict than EU standards.
Title VIIFinal and Transitional Rules
19. We oppose the proposal to change the
committee procedure from the use of a regulatory committee to
the use of a mangement committee.
Letter from the Chairman to Lord Rooker,
Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food, Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs
Thank you for your letter dated 1 May which
Sub-Committee D (Environment and Agriculture) considered at its
meeting on 21 June.
Your letter gave a helpful indication of the
Government's emerging position on this dossier. We note your unease
at the intention that organic products should carry an EU logo
and your continuing concern regarding the clarity of the drafting
of the proposal.
Given these continuing issues the Committee
decided to continue to hold the proposal under scrutiny. We ask
to be kept informed with developments, and in particular would
like to receive an update on the Government's position once the
consultation exercise has been completed.
23 June 2006