Proposals to change European organic regulations could penalize growers, lead to job losses and significantly damage the sector, warns a British organic certification body.
Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) chief executive Roger Kerr says the European Commission’s recently published proposed strategy to overhaul the organic farming regulation system will have far-reaching affects on the growing practice in the U.K., and could reduce cultivation at a time when consumer demand for organic produce is growing.
He will officially not support the proposals unless significant changes are made, according to a release.
The EC report details how the number of organic farms or the area dedicated to organic farming has grown by approximately 50% over the last decade, and puts forward some changes to how organic farms and holdings are regulated.
Amongst them are proposals – to be discussed by the European Parliament and European Council before any expected implementation possibly in 2017 – that would require a farmer’s entire holding to be organic.
Farmers could be stopped from having a mix of organic and conventional operations on the same farm; a process many growers go through over a period of time to reduce the risk of converting to a completely organic operation in one hit.
Kerr says the new rules could force mixed farms out of organic production altogether if the EC plans get ratified in the current form.
“There are many aspects of the proposals which would cause massive damage to the organic sector, at a time when it should be growing in response to increasing demand for organic food,” he said in the release.
“As the sector continues to develop the regulations need to be enhanced, but we don’t want to disadvantage organic producers and processors in the process.
“As they stand, these changes will cost jobs and livelihoods, which no one who cares about organics wants to see.”
The release adds that another potential change cited in the report is the need for all retailers who sell organic produce to become certified, rather than those who handle unpacked organic goods as is currently the case.
“By the time organic food hits the shelves it will have already gone through a rigorous certification process, so forcing all retailers to go through a further process is unnecessary, adds costs and adds nothing to the integrity of the product,” Kerr added.
“Our concern is that the cost of certification may force some retailers to withdraw from the sector, removing important outlets for individual farms and food processors and reducing consumer choice.”
The European Fresh Produce Association (Freshfel) recently held a working group to discuss the issue, and has expressed “profound concern” at some of the proposed laws.
“At the first meeting of Freshfel’s Organic Agriculture Working Group, participants held a deep and productive exchange about the new organic farming proposal of the Commission as well as other issues related to organic farming,” Freshfel said.
“Like other organisations in the agri-food sector, Freshfel has a number of profound concerns about the Commission’s organic reform proposal which is now debated by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
“During the meeting, representatives from Copa Cogeca and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) presented the work of their organisations and allowed for a good exchange with the members of the working group.”