EU auditors to scrutinise organic food supply chain
The audit is an update to the ECA’s last inspection in 2012, during which retail sales in the EU organic market grew by 54% in 2010 - 2015. Imports of organic produce grew by 32% during this period.
“The challenge faced by the organic sector is to ensure a steady growth of supply and demand, while maintaining consumers' trust,” said Nikolaos Milionis, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the audit.
Trust was dented in May 2017, when a report claimed a shipment of 36 million pounds of corn and soya beans entering the US was falsely labelled as organic.
The shipment, which originated in Ukraine, allegedly was able to obtain organic certification thereby increasing its value by around €3.2m ($4m) when it docked in California via Turkey.
With an average premium of around 15-30%, certified organic products are an attractive target for food fraud.
Its price premium does not appear to dent consumer interest as the market struggles to meet supply and demand with the gap continuing to widen.
According to IFOAM EU, the European organic food and drink market grew 7.4% in 2014 with retail sales of approximately €24m.
In an attempt to shore up defences, the organic food industry have implemented systems and technologies to better authenticate organic produce via analytical tools and forensic techniques.
In the UK, the Soil Association has collaborated with technology firm Provenance to create smart labels on organic foods.
These labels join QR codes, Barcodes, and NFC tags in enabling organic food products to be tracked from farm to fork.
Blockchain technology has also been adopted by the European organic sector ensuring that no part of the supply chain can be interfered with without it registering in the other parts of the chain.
EU Regulation 834/2007 provides the basis for the sustainable development of organic production while ensuring the effective functioning of the internal market, guaranteeing fair competition, ensuring consumer confidence and protecting consumer interests.
However, as the organic food industry has expanded so has the regulation, as organic products cannot be identified by a laboratory test or physical examination.
Organic status is primarily ascertained through a certification system laid down in EU law and overseen by the Commission.
Only last year, the European Commission put in place a new system of electronic certification to better monitor imports of organic products.
The move was in response to recommendations outlined by the ECA and a request from Member States to better monitor the movements of organic products and the consistency of import checks.
As a result, regulation (EU) 2016/1842 was published on 14 October 2016, amending Regulation (EC) No 1235/2008 that covered the electronic certificate of inspection for imported organic products.
The new regulation also amended Regulation (EC) No 889/2008 that detailed requirements for preserved or processed organic products and the transmission of information.
Organic alignment with CAP
The European Commission has also taken measures to support organic food production with recently introduced rules that further aligns organic farming with rules outlined in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Under the CAP, certified organic farmers receive “greening” payments and support from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to convert to and maintain organic farming practices.
This Fund’s total contribution to organic-farming payments for 2014–2020 is valued at €6.5 bn.
The ECA’s audit report will be published in early 2019 - part of a series of ECA food chain reports that include Food Waste (published in Jan 2017), Animal Welfare (underway) and Food Safety (underway).