Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


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 during negotiations.

  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 under scrutiny.

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 preference—and that of most other Member States—is 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 Member States.

  I hope this and the attached note are helpful to the Committee.

1 May 2006

Annex A

UK POSITION ON COMMISSION PROPOSAL FOR A COUNCIL REGULATION ON ORGANIC PRODUCTION AND LABELLING OF ORGANIC PRODUCTS

INTRODUCTION

  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 proposal—other than to maintain an open mind—until the results of this consultation have been collated, which is not expected to be until late Summer.

INDICATIVE COMMENTS

Title I—Subject matter, scope and definitions

Article 1

  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 products—on 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 II—Objectives and principles for organic production

Article 3

  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 the environment".

Article 5

  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 one—the 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 III—Production Rules

Article 7

  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?

Article 12

  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.

Article 13

  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.

Article 14

  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.

Article 16

  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.

Title IV—Labelling

Article 18

  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 groups.

Title V—Controls

Article 22

  14.  The UK welcomes the risk-based approach to control systems.

Article 23

  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.

Article 24

  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 wording.

  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 VI—Trade withThird Countries

Article 27

  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 VII—Final and Transitional Rules

Article 31

  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



 
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