Fresh Start for EU Organic Sector - EU monitor

EU monitor
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
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Fresh Start for EU Organic Sector

Source: Ph. (Phil) Hogan i, published on Friday, June 30 2017.

This week's overdue deal on organics will give a major boost to one of Europe's most dynamic agri-food sectors.

After more than three years of talks, I have to admit that even as recently as last week the chances of success seemed very limited.

But one thing that everyone agreed on was that the current rules - which are 20 years old now - were not fit for purpose and were likely to hinder rather than help the development of this growing sector. In short, the talks could not afford to fail, and I am extremely happy that everyone agreed to a final push in order to reach an agreement.

The agreement that has been reached - assuming it is endorsed by EU agriculture ministers and the European Parliament as a whole - will add further value to the organic sector , where consumer demand is strong and European production is of a high quality.

During the last decade, the organic area in the EU increased by about 500,000 hectares per year, and yet it still represents only 6.2% of total utilised agricultural area in Europe - so there's plenty of room for further growth. There were almost 185,000 organic farms across Europe and around 306,500 organic producers, processors and importers in the EU in 2015, and the figure continues to grow as consumer demand rises.

The principles now agreed, if supported by the co-legislators, will benefit farmers and consumers alike. Organic farming also helps the EU meet its sustainable development commitments and its climate change targets. A new set of rules that encourages the expansion of the sector can only be a good thing in this regard.

So what will the new rules bring in concrete terms?

A simpler set of rules will level the playing field, ironing out the disparities in how different EU countries regulate the sector.

Controlling the implementation of those rules - so important for consumer confidence in the sector - will also be improved, including, for the first time, on organic retailers. Controls on imported organic products will also be tougher: private control bodies in non-EU countries that certify organic products will have to comply with EU standards when deciding whether a product to be exported to the EU market is organic or not.

The new rules will significantly expand the scope of both the regulation of products (for example, to products such as salt, cork or beeswax) and introduce new production rules (for example, for deer, rabbits or poultry).

And the new rules will also significantly lighten the burden on companies wanting to comply with organic certification, in particular smaller businesses, by allowing groups of producers across the EU to apply for joint certification for the first time.

Reaching an agreement on what was at times a very divisive issue sends a clear political message to our citizens that the EU can get things done. In today's climate when citizens and politicians in many Member States are quick to criticise the EU for being out-of-touch, it's important to show the EU's added value in finding solutions to even the most difficult problems - no matter how long it takes!

Many issues are best tackled at European level, and we should not be shy in explaining this important fact to our citizens. If we can prove to them that EU solutions improve their lives, they will be more receptive to further action. My thanks to the Maltese Presidency of the EU, representing the member states; Martin Häusling, the lead negotiator on behalf of the European Parliament; as well as my dedicated colleagues in DG Agri for getting this important agreement over the line.