EUROPE - Organic farmers, processors, traders and importers must meet higher but realistic sustainability criteria and undergo strict food fraud checks to boost trust in the EU organic label, said agriculture MEPs on Tuesday.
They introduced measures to avoid contamination of organic food, including on mixed organic and conventional farms, and endorsed plans to help small farmers turn organic.
"We are satisfied with our position before trialogues. But we know that all this will only work in practice if all operators involved take responsibility to make organic farming work better," said the rapporteur, Martin Häusling, who will lead Parliament's negotiating team during the talks with the Council on the final wording of the new organic law.
Negotiations will soon be launched between the rapporteur and his team and the Council on the final wording of the new legislation.
Tailored controls to avoid food fraud
Contrary to the Commission's original proposal, the agriculture committee insisted that organic farming requires a tailored controls regime along the entire chain to avoid food fraud.
MEPs backed the Commission's plans to make controls more risk-based but refused to give up on at least an annual, physical, on-site check on all organic farms.
Member states should also ensure the traceability of each product at all stages of production, preparation and distribution to give guarantees to consumers that the organic products they buy are truly organic.
The committee scrapped the Commission's plans to do away with mixed farms, i.e. farms producing both conventional and organic food, on condition that their conventional farming activities are clearly separated and differentiated from organic farming ones.
They also backed group certification for small farmers to make their lives easier and attract more of them into the organic farming business.
The committee supported the Commission's initial proposal to ensure that all imported products comply with tough EU rules. Current equivalence rules, which require third countries to comply with similar but not identical standards, should be phased out within the next five years.
However, to avoid sudden disruptions of supply on the EU market, the committee says the Commission should be able, for a maximum of two years, to adjust import requirements for some products which do not fully comply with EU standards, because of climate conditions, for example.
Lack of provision for animal welfare improvements
Animal welfare group Eurogroup for Animals said it was disappointed that no provision had been made in the new organic farming rules for improving animal welfare on organic farms, which it said would risk consumer confidence in organic products.
“The revision of the organic legislation had the potential to stop painful practices like tethering and mutilations on organic farms and to decrease transport times for organically raised farm animals, these major concerns have now not been adequately tackled by the Parliament," said Reineke Hameleers, Director at Eurogroup for Animals.
"EU organic farming legislation should lead the way with systems that truly respect animal sentience, but it is now becoming yet another symptom of a broken system that only pays lip service to animal welfare, without even meeting its basic obligations under Article 13 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union,” she added.
Possibility of 2020 revision causes uncertainty
The Committee said that the Commission could review the rules in 2020 in case specific standards for limits on certain substances were required.
However, European organic organisation IFOAM EU said that this possibility caused uncertainty for organic farmers over what will happen in five years time.
"The clause to review the issue again in 2020 threatens the potential for success. A new five-year period of legal uncertainty is completely unacceptable for the organic sector and must be excluded from a new regulation,” said Marco Schlüter, Director of IFOAM EU.
Despite these issues, the organisation welcomed the move to strengthen regulation of organic businesses.
"In the area of organic control the Parliament sent a very clear signal about its value in the supply chain and the role of annual inspections in maintaining consumer confidence in organic," said Vice-President Sabine Eigenschink.
"Maintaining the obligatory annual control, keeping the specific control requirements in the organic regulation and rejecting the excess of administrative burden for shops selling pre-packed organic food were core issues for the organic movement".
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