Drafted last year, the proposed regulatory changes were intended to remove entry barriers to organic farming, guarantee fair competition to farmers by harmonising rules for both EU-produced and imported goods and improve consumer confidence.
But member states failed to agree on several key issues, such as the proposal to conduct controls on a risk-basis only. Systematic controls are currently carried out annually - crucial to maintaining consumer faith in the organic logo according to various organic associations.
Albert Jan Maat president of the Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations (COPA) said: “The requirement to have yearly controls should be maintained as it helps to maintain a regular link between certification bodies and operators, considering the rapid changes to regulation and the complexity of the regulatory framework.
"This is also important to ensure consumer confidence in the EU organic farming logo.”
Another sticking point among ministers was the presence of non-authorised substances in organic products, with member states failing to reach an agreement on how to achieve a harmonised EU approach.
Some countries were in favour of imposing legal threshold limits – part of the Commission’s initial proposal – while others argued in favour of maintaining current system of control during the production process.
Speaking at the meeting in Brussels yesterday, president of the council and Latvian minister for agriculture Janis Duklavs said: “Despite the willingness showed by some member states to make possible an agreement, some very sensitive issues need clearly to be further discussed.
"We will consider the possibility to reach agreement for a general approach on organic farming at the next Council in June.”
‘A flawed proposal’
The decision to postpone the vote was welcomed by various groups, including IFOAM, EFFAT and Copa-Cogeca which sent an open letter to EU Agriculture Ministers last week urging them to not adopt certain measures which would threaten organic farming in Europe.
Christian Pees president of the General Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives (Cogeca), called the review ‘a bureaucratic monster’ that would stifle innovation.
Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen told FoodNavigator: "The EU Commission proposal is unnecessarily bureaucratic which acts as a disincentive to farmers wishing to convert to organic.
"(...) We hope that all our concerns will be included in the final agreement in June. The current system has worked well, built up over 20 years, and what we need is evolution.
"It is crucial that the new EU organic farming legislation supports the development of the EU organic farming sector, ensuring that the 225 000 organic farmers continue to earn a living from their farming activities."
Meanwhile Marco Schlüter, IFOAM EU Director said: "This [failure to reach an agreement] shows how flawed the initial proposal was and the Council has wisely chosen to take more time in order to obtain better legislation,” he said.
Good for consumers, good for farmers?
When the initial proposal was made in March 2014 Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Cioloş, said that the new regulation would boost organic farming across the EU.
“This package is good for consumers and good for farmers. 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."
Once an agreement has been reached, member states will launch negotiations between the EU parliament and the Council.
IFOAM's full position on the proposal can be read here.