The future of the UK’s organic sector could be put at risk by new proposed rules from Brussels, which are set to prohibit farmers from growing conventional and organic produce at the same time, farmers are warning.
A draft regulation leaked to German magazine Der Spiegel suggests the European Commission plans to tighten rules on organic food production, including forcing organic farmers to go 100% organic.
Organic farmers are currently allowed to grow conventional produce if they can show it is necessary to keep their businesses economically viable. But the EC plans to stop this to better prevent fraud and cross-contamination, the documents suggest.
This has left some farmers fearing that being forced to commit 100% to organic could put their businesses at risk from fluctuations in demand for organic food.
“The new regulation might mean farmers are required to convert their entire farm at once rather than parcel by parcel”
“It will also discourage farmers from converting to organic, as the new regulation might mean farmers are required to convert their entire farm at once rather than parcel by parcel,” said NFU food chain adviser Tom Lander. “This would be more expensive and doesn’t allow those thinking about organic conversion to try it out first to see if it is for them.”
The Soil Association – the UK’s largest organic certification scheme – said an estimated 15% of its members grew both conventional and organic produce, but nevertheless struck a more positive note.
Its head of certification, Rob Sexton, said it was difficult to comment on the EC’s plans as no official draft had been released. But he stressed that the UK sector was already “rigorously inspected and regulated”, adding: “Should the EU commission take further steps to ensure such high standards across EU member states and beyond, this would only further maintain the integrity of organic food.”
The leaked draft regulation comes after the EC launched a public consultation on the future of the EU’s organic food sector last year. According to the document seen by Der Spiegel, it also plans to tighten rules on the use of pesticides in organic farming, and force organic pig and poultry farmers to source at least 60% of their feed from near their farm, up from a minimum of 20% at present.
Pig and poultry farmers will also be made to use 100% organically produced protein in their feed, up from 95% at present.
The EC said it was still in the process of preparing proposals for revising organic production rules and declined to comment on the information cited by Der Spiegel. Roger Waite, the EC’s spokesman on agriculture and rural development, said the proposed new rules were due to be presented at the end of March.
“It is vital that consumers continue to have full confidence in the organic system”
“The organic sector has seen remarkable growth in recent years, in particular through imports. It is vital that consumers continue to have full confidence in the organic system,” he said.
“The Commission is therefore considering ways in which rules can be simplified without in any way compromising organic principles and ways in which controls can be strengthened to ensure the rules and principles are respected.”
Waite said the EC’s public consultation had prompted a “remarkable level of response”, with 45,000 people responding. “This shows the importance which many citizens attach to organic food.”
According to the Soil Association, the UK organic food sector was worth £1.64bn at the end of 2012, down 1.5% on 2011. Figures for 2013 have not yet been released, but a spokeswoman said: “The market has shown steady growth for most of the year at approximately 1%.”