‘Time is running short’: Mutual recognition for UK and EU organic food regulations a ‘matter of urgency’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages/Artem Tryhub
Pic: GettyImages/Artem Tryhub

Related tags Mutual recognition organic Brexit

Stakeholders fear organic food exports will be banned if mutual recognition is not agreed between the UK and EU by 11pm by December 31 2020.

The UK Organic Trade Board, Food and Drink Federation, National Farmers Union, and organic certification body the Soil Association have penned a letter to Chief UK Negotiator, Lord Frost, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rt Hon Michael Gove, MP, expressing their ‘deep concern’.

“Unless equivalence is secured as part of the UK-EU negotiations, British organic food producers will not be legally allowed to sell their products in the EU or in Northern Ireland, due to its status as part of the EU’s regulatory regime,” ​they wrote in the communication published this week.

An ‘essential’ £100bn sector

More than 30 organisations signed the letter, which highlights the economic importance of organics – an industry with ‘a footprint in every constituency’. Indeed, the industry contributes more than any other manufacturing sector to UK GDP, and boasts global sales of close to £100bn.

The UK is the world’s ninth biggest organic market, and last year it was valued at £2.6bn. “Consistently strong growth in global consumer demand represents a significant opportunity for UK producers,” ​the signatories noted.

Data from YouGov does suggest clear demand for organic products within the UK. According to recent findings, three in ten (29%) Brits say they ‘prefer to serve organic and natural foods’ to their families. And four in ten (42%) Brits who prefer organic and natural food say they’re the sold grocery shoppers in their households.

“The market for organic food is an essential, and growing, part of the UK’s import and export economy and is one of a very few sectors which potentially face overnight exclusion from a vital market if a mutual recognition agreement between the UK and EU is not achieved before the December 31st​ deadline,” ​said Roger Keff, chairman of the UK Organic Certifiers Group.

Omsco’s managing director, Richard Hampton, said access to the European market is crucial to the industry for two reasons: “the growth opportunities that it affords”​ and “because our spread of markets and products allows us to deliver the flexibility and availability to our UK customers and consumers.

“The loss of these markets will damage efficiencies, reduce flexibility and increase costs at a precarious economic time.”

Lack of equivalence ‘presents a grave threat’

The signatories are calling for mutual recognition of the UK and EU organic regulations in the form of an equivalence agreement, which they say would be in the ‘best interests’ of the UK and European agri-food and drink industry.

“The UK’s organic regulation already meets the requirements of the current EU organic regulation which should make negotiations in this area straightforward,” ​they noted.

Under EU Regulation (EC) 1235/2008, UK Organic Control Bodies have applied for recognition. If these applications are successful, but no equivalency agreement is secured, then any product destined for the EU would need to comply with Regulation (EU) 2018/848.

“It is estimated that around 80% of the UK organic operators would need to be certified to both the UK regulation and the EU regulation,” ​the authors stressed.

Having to certify to two regulations is a ‘lengthy’ process, and one that could lead to ‘significantly more administration’, cost and regulatory burden to UK businesses, they warned.

Exporting without a mutual agreement would also mean British producers would have to create new packaging with any reference to ‘organic’ removed, and risk losing their ‘premium status’ on the continent.

“Time is already running short to secure equivalence and bringing damaging uncertainty for producers,” ​they continued. “Labelling and packaging changes alone will take between 12-18 months from the point at which businesses have certainty around what will be legally required.

“This presents a grave threat to both businesses and jobs in the UK’s largest manufacturing industry and in farming communities across Great Britain that supply our producers with quality ingredients.”

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