REFORMING ORGANIC IS NOT SO NATURAL
On November 8, the Belgian daily La Libre Belgique published a short and concise dossier on the reform of the European regulation of organic farming, which nearly failed.
It is interesting to come back to the situation now that the reform was finally adopted on November 20th.
You can read the reaction of the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan after this vote http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-17-4727_en.htm
This dossier (in French) was prepared by Isabelle Lemaire.
"New rules of organic in Europe: why it blocks.
Europe wants to review its organic legislation. The vote, November 20, looks very uncertain. An overview of the proposed reforms and what is stuck.
Negotiations. If the organic reform succeeds, it will have been the longest legislative process in the history of the European Union. It will have taken 18 trilogues to reach the current proposal on June 28th. Everything started very badly since the organic sector was immediately opposed to a legislative change. In 2007, the first regulation was strongly criticized because it was based on the lowest common denominator. But it has since been bitterly defended by the organic sector, facing the project of new regulations. The negotiations, which began in 2015, were particularly laborious as Member States were defending their particular demands. This has provoked repeated crises in the European Council and stops in the discussion process.
The big novelties in 7 points:
After nearly three years of intense negotiations, the European Council will vote on 20 November to reform organic legislation. A vote whose outcome is very uncertain, the particular interests of some Member States seem irreconcilable. If the text passes, it will apply from July 1, 2020. Here are the major novelties.
1- No (yet) thresholds of authorized chemicals.
Belgium, Italy, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have established thresholds for chemicals (pesticides, fertilizers), not authorized in organic farming, in organic foodstuffs. The European Commission (and Belgium which has been lobbying intensively, rallying several small countries to its cause) wanted to make it the norm within the Union. But this was rejected by Germany and France in particular, who feared that the organic label lost authenticity.
Instead, the reform provides for enhanced precautionary measures to prevent contamination by chemicals. If a suspicion of contamination weighs on the product, it will not be able to be worded organic, the time that an investigation possibly proves the opposite. The four countries with thresholds will be able to maintain them. In a maximum of four years, the Commission will produce a report on the reasons for the contaminations and may decide on legislative harmonization (thresholds or no thresholds for the 28 Member States).
2- Hydroponic agriculture is forbidden.
The Baltic countries and the Netherlands wanted to obtain the possibility to grow organic hidroponic crops, but they did not win. Hydroponic production in organic farming is still banned, but three countries (Sweden, Denmark and Finland) will have a derogation for ten years. This only concerns an area of 20 hectares in all.
3- Equivalence rules for non-European organic are deleted.
It was an aberration on a global scale, denounced by the World Trade Organization. For the organic products it imports, the EU recognizes control bodies outside the EU for the certification of organic products that meet equivalent production rules. The reform will gradually put an end to it. By 2025, countries outside the EU will have to respect the European organic specifications if they want to sell their products on the European markets. Derogations will be possible for certain products such as bananas.
4- Access to seeds is facilitated.
Traditional varieties, now banned for sale, and varieties specially created to be adapted to this type of production will be available for organic farming.
5- Reinforced controls in farms.
Currently, growers are checked on the field and on file, once a year, to control if they are not cheating. They are also subject to unannounced checks. With the reform, controls will be based on a systematic risk analysis. Annual and unannounced inspections will be maintained, but if no irregularities are found for three years, the field control will only take place every two years. On the other hand, if repeated anomalies are detected, controls will intensify.
6- Small growers get together.
The new legislation allows for the formation of grower groups, where infrastructure and equipment are pooled. Small farmers will be able to pool their cost of production and organic certification, which is very high.
7- New labeled products.
These are rabbits, cervids, essential oils, cork, cotton, salt or wool.
3 QUESTIONS TO
Lawyer specialized in environmental law.
You defend the proposal for reform of the organic legislation. Why?
The text includes real advances on seeds, biodiversity for example. Removing the equivalence rules with third countries may allow European organic produce to grow, because currently 50% of organic products sold in the European Union are imported. If this compromise is rejected it would be, in my opinion, a real disaster, a mess. The Commission is unlikely to plan a new reform project. We will keep the 2007 legislation with its inaccuracies, its derogations, the wobbly system of imports of organic products, etc."
(The other questions concern the vote itself and the particular case of Belgium).
On a technical level, it's worth noting the ban on soilless crops. This point seems to me particularly debatable, insofar as this technique makes possible to put in practice a confined agriculture, totally out of reach of diseases and pests, thus a total absence of need of use of pesticides, neither synthetic nor natural. It's true that the nutritional aspect is still difficult, but great progress has been made in this area, making organic nutrition possible in hydroponics.
Soilless crops also help to develop areas that are incompatible with agriculture, with optimal use of water resources, almost without waste (everything is recovered, composted and recycled, from substrates to nutrient solutions, and also plastics and remains of past crops), with very high productivities per unit area, and the possibility of being locally producing healthy food throughout the year. It's a modern, high-performance agriculture with virtually no negative impact on the environment or human health.
It seems to me a shame to eliminate a priori an interesting path which it seems obvious that in the short or medium term, we will be able to conduct it in a manner fully compatible with organic farming.
There is also an increasing number of soilless urban agriculture projects that won't be able to benefit from the organic label, even if the techniques used seem to be in agreement with the philosophy, apart from the absence of soil.
I think it's damaging for both producers and consumers.
In my opinion, it's a gross error, typical of an ideology with a reductive vision, strictly limited to the stupid and malicious application of dogma.
But well, the reform was finally voted. But at what cost!
We have passed on the verge of a blockage by pure immobilism, to defend special interests to the detriment of the common interest.
It strengthens me even more in the idea of less state, more Europe. In short, if we want Europe to really work, we have to get it out of these parochial quarrels. They only impede the proper functioning of the system, and ultimately the harm always shifts to the people and the businesses that depend on those political decisions.
You know that I'm not a fanatic of organic, not in terms of production, but in terms of communication. It's above all a large manipulation of the public opinion, based on a dogma according to which all what is natural is good for health and non-contaminating, and all what is synthetic is bad and contaminating. In itself it's a nonsense, but above all it gives rise to all kinds of abuse under the sole pretext that "it is natural".
However, organic food is becoming increasingly important, with a growing share of food in Europe and the rest of the world. It's also a guideline that has had the great merit of challenging many practices that are open to criticism in all branches of human activity. Agriculture is gaining in sustainability partly thanks to technical inputs from organic production thinking.
The European Union is currently an example in terms of requirements, control and seriousness about legislation concerning the environment, pesticides, health, and quality of food.
It came close that it could have stayed lagging behind in organic agriculture.
A bit of harmonization will not hurt, so that consumers are not so lost, and so that farmers can work with more appropriate means, and better controlled.