Kathryn Gilbertson

+44 (0)1733 887621 kgilbertson@greenwoodsgrm.co.uk

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Emily Pumfrey

+44 (0)1733 887644 erpumfrey@greenwoodsgrm.co.uk

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Organic September: but what does it mean to be ‘organic’?

Agriculture and rural business / 02 September 2020

This month marks “Organic September”, a month-long campaign ran by UK-based charity, the Soil Association to raise awareness of the benefits of organic food and farming, including reduced exposure to pesticides, helping to combat climate change and the highest standards of animal welfare. In this agricultural-focussed update, we consider the existing EU organic regulations, labelling requirements and the potential impact of Brexit on existing regulations.

Earlier this year, the Guardian reported the organic sector’s eighth consecutive year of growth, with sales of organic food and drink in the UK rising by 4.5% last year to a record £2.45bn, fuelled by strong growth online and in-home delivery, and this was in a pre-COVID-19 world. Community farming and organic veg box schemes have gained even more popularity during the pandemic with consumers opting to purchase local, fresh and organic produce putting greater emphasis on knowing where produce comes from and reducing their carbon footprint. A surge in demand, of course, brings its own challenges, with increased supply chain issues.

The EU Organic Regulations
Organic food must meet the criteria defined in EU legislation including Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 & the Commission Regulation (EC) No 889/2008 which relate to how the food is produced and/or processed including the labelling for the consumer. The legislation is aimed at providing sustainable cultivation systems which produce a variety of high-quality products with greater emphasis on environmental protection, more attention to biodiversity and with higher animal welfare standards.

All organic farms and companies must be certified to grow, process or market organic products and are inspected by a certification body, at least once a year. The Soil Association uses the EU organic regulation as its baseline, but in many cases, its standards are more robust.

Food may be labelled “organic” only if at least 95% of its agricultural ingredients meet the necessary standards. All producers of packaged organic food must state the code number of the certifying organisation and use the EU organic logo. If the Euro leaf logo is used on a product, this indicates the product is in full conformity with the conditions and regulations for the organic farming sector.

The potential for fraud?
The expanding market for organic foods has grown a new forbidden fruit for fraudsters with increased scope for organic food fraud. The Food Standards Agency has identified an issue with the amount of non-organic food slipping through the net. Organic food fraud can extend to all sectors of the food industry. Typically, farmers can violate organic food regulation by using fertilisers, pesticides or unapproved antibiotics. Researchers in Europe are seeking ways to determine and combat organic food fraud based on scientific analysis, e.g. detection as to whether crops labelled as organic contain industrial fertilisers.

Will the regulations change after Brexit?
As of 31 January 2020, the UK is no longer in the EU and has entered a period of implementation, to last until 31 December 2020.  At this stage, we cannot say with certainty what the position will be. However, it is possible that after 31 December 2020 there may be implications for the trade of organic products between the UK, EU and other markets. This applies to seed, plants, livestock, crops and feed. This may involve new import/ export documentation and labelling requirements for all organic products. We will keep you updated as the Government’s position develops.

If you would like more information about the regulations relating to organic food production, processing within your existing business and/or the issues relating to organic food fraud, please do get in touch with our specialist Regulatory and Agribusiness teams.

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