The future of organic in Europe: Changes coming to processing and labelling rules

By Katia Merten-Lentz and Caroline Commandeur

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages-ThamKC
Pic: GettyImages-ThamKC

Related tags Organic

New rules on organic farming and production in the EU are set to come into effect at the beginning of 2022. In the second in a series of articles examining the update, legal experts Katia Merten-Lentz, partner at international law firm Keller and Heckman, and Caroline Commandeur, Associate at the same firm, weigh what these new measures will mean for the future of organic food in the bloc.

Labelling terms referring to organic production and EU organic logo make it easier for the consumers to identify organic products and ensure organic food meet strict conditions of production and processing, in accordance with EU requirements. In line with the overall revision of organic production, the new Regulation (EU) No 2018/848, which will come into force in January 2022, introduces some evolutions - but no revolution - to the processing and labelling of organic food products.

A wider range of products may be certified organic

The new Organic Regulation will cover a wider range of products, meaning that more products are likely to be certified as organic.

It will include certain other products “closely linked to agriculture​” in addition to the live or unprocessed agricultural products – seeds and other plant reproductive materials already covered today. These products are listed in Annex I of the Regulation (EU) 2018/848, and will include, for instance, sea salt or essential oils other than those intended to be consumed as foodstuffs – essential oils for food use were already covered by the previous organic rules.

Additionally, the Commission will be empowered to add further products to that list.

Requirements for organic processed food products

Processed foods must be produced mainly from organic agricultural ingredients. Some non-organic ingredients of agricultural origin may also be used, but only if they have been authorized for use in organic production and used in low proportion, i.e.: up to 5% of the agricultural ingredients of the product by weight. The same principle applies to other substances like food additives or processing aids.

As from January 2022, processed foods could also be mainly made from “other products closely linked to agriculture” intended for use as food listed in Annex I, in addition to agricultural ingredients.

With regards to the use of food additives and other substances, while the principle of positive lists remains identical, some of them are still being updated. Of relevance, the list of authorized non-organic ingredients will be drastically reduced, and their use will be explicitly excluded for fortification purpose, echoing a recent decision of the ECJ.

Analyses of all already authorized processing aids will be carried out and might lead to a revision of the current list of authorized processing aids. However, for now, positive lists of processing aids and food additives remain identical to the previous ones. In addition, the use of flavourings will be restricted, since only natural flavourings originating from the mentioned ingredients (so called ‘natural X flavoring’) will be allowed for use in organic processing.

With regards to the prohibited processing and treatments, the use of GMOs and ionizing radiation remains prohibited, as they are incompatible with the concept of organic production and consumers’ perception of organic products. The new Organic Regulation also explicitly excludes foods containing or consisting of engineered nanomaterials in the production of processed organic food.

Origin labelling of organic products

The use of the EU organic logo remains compulsory for organic pre-packed food and must still be accompanied by an indication of the place where the agricultural raw materials were been farmed, in order to avoid deceptive practices and any possible confusion about the Union or non-Union origin of a product.

Until the revision of the Organic Regulation, the origin of the raw material had to be a reference to EU and/or non-EU agriculture, where small quantities (up to 2% by weight of the total weight) of ingredients may be disregarded. In the case where all agricultural raw materials had been farmed in a single country, the EU / non-EU origin of agricultural raw materials may be supplemented or replaced by such country.

Consequently the new Organic Regulation increases flexibility of origin labelling, since the name of a country and a region (like ‘Brittany’ in France) may also replace or supplement the ‘EU’ and ‘non-EU’ origin of raw materials, provided that all agricultural raw materials had been farmed in that region. In addition, the threshold of small quantities of ingredients that may be disregarded in relation to the EU or non-EU indication is increased from 2% to 5% of the total quantity by weight. 

Those changes are likely to impact not only EU operators, but also producers in third countries, who will have to comply with the same set of rules. Our next and final piece on organic food products will therefore focus on this matter.

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