The European Commission (EC) has proposed new laws that will shake up the way organic foods are regulated, in a bid to address what it calls 'the shortcomings of the current system.'
The Commission said consumer and producer concerns are at the heart of its new proposal, which will harmonise the rules on organic farming and scrap many of the derogations and exceptions set out in the current rules.
According to the EC, the proposal, which will now be submitted to the European Parliament and to the Council, builds on the findings of a consultation process that started in 2012, and focuses on three main objectives: maintaining consumer confidence, maintaining producer confidence and making it easier for farmers to switch to organics.
"Organic products are not a niche product anymore," said Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Ciolos."The future of the organic sector in the EU depends on the quality and integrity of the products sold under the European organic logo."
"The Commission is looking for more and better organic farming in the EU by consolidating consumer confidence in organic products and removing obstacles to the development of organic agriculture."
Ciolos said customer trust must be won back and that toughening controls will help. That means the content of food products using an organic logo will be subject to tougher regulations in the future.
He added that the soaring market share of the organic sector also leaves the market ripe for exploitation, with some tempted to cash in on increasing demand with fraud.
"We need to control where the risk is the largest," said Ciolos.
The EC proposals also seek to reduce the use of conventional feed and seeds in organic farming, while the limits for contamination through pesticides or genetically modified products are to be toughened too.
Ciolos added that the current mandatory physical verification of compliance with EU rules will also be ended, explaining that the sector would move towards a "risk-based approach".
The new regulation will also allow smaller farms to join organic farming, by allowing them to sign up to a 'group certification system', in a bid to reduce red tape on smaller businesses.
"This package is good for consumers and good for farmers," he explained. "Consumers will have better guarantees on organic food made and sold in the EU and farmers, producers and retailers will have access to a larger market, both within and outside the EU". "
To help organic farmers, producers and retailers adjust to the proposed policy changes and meet future challenges, the Commission has also approved an Action Plan on the future of Organic Production in Europe.