More practical, pragmatic solutions

The EU Commission has adopted the implementing rules of organic aquaculture in the new EU Organic Regulation. The rules are geared to what is practicable and constitute only the smallest common denominator upon which all participants could agree after lengthy discussions. As was to be expected, their publication was soon followed by criticism…

 

As from 1 July 2010 producers of packaged organic foods will be obliged to use the EU organic logo. (The use of the EU logo is obligatory but can be supplemented by individual national or private logos).

First, the good news: there is now a regulation for the aquaculture sector, too which rules Europe-wide and uniformly which minimum requirements have to be fulfilled by fish and seafood that are produced and traded under ”organic“ standards.

 

But the bad news is that although much effort went into developing this EU regulation it will not lead to the disappearance of the confusing variety of different organic seals and certificates on the market. Instead of using the EU regulation as a starting point for the creation of a uniform, universally valid label which would give European consumers some orientation in this confusing market segment, it constitutes the addition of yet another to the dozen or so already existing organic seals.

In contrast to agriculture, where throughout Europe tens of thousands of farmers already grow potatoes and farm pigs according to organic rules this idea has not really sparked so far in the aquaculture sector. Because the available statistics are rather unsatisfactory and insufficient it can only be roughly estimated how much fish, shellfish and crustaceans are produced according to organic standards, but it’s not very much. In 2005 Professor Volker Hilge added together all the available figures and arrived at a total of about 25,000 t worldwide whose production was deemed “organic”, “ecological”, “bio-dynamic”, etc. And even if this quantity has in the meantime risen to 40,000 or 50,000 t it still doesn’t account for even 0.1 per cent of global aquaculture production which amounted to 65.2 m t in 2007. More than 18 certification organisations in Europe – from the Italian AIAB to the British Soil Assocation – fight over the shares of this modest cake. In Germany alone, where Naturland is undoubtedly the top dog in this segment, there are a further five certifiers who offer their services to the industry: Biokreis, Bioland, Biopark, Demeter and GÄA… mainly for organic carp whose near-natural production gives little cause for doubt anyway.

 

Why not just one organic label?

A certification organisation’s reputation grows with every producer it gains as a client. And so do its earnings because naturally a fee is demanded for the seal. These organisations have no easy job in the aquaculture sector, however, because the pool of fish farmers who would like to switch to organic production is relatively small and, added to that, much courted. This means that some certifiers hardly stand a chance right from the start. Those of them who see the effort as too great in relation to the benefits choose rather to seek clients in the agricultural sector where their chance of success is considerably higher. What exacerbates this situation further is the fact that more and more fish farmers prefer to pursue professional production standards such as GlobalGAP or BAP (ACC) which have a high reputation in the international arena in favour of the often rather vaguely formulated organic standards.

Naturland welcomed the aquaculture regulation of the EU as a means of encouraging ecological fish farming, but at the same time criticised that in large areas it constituted a compromise with positions of conventional industry.

Perhaps this explains why none of the organic certifiers has welcomed the Organic Regulation unconditionally, although some of them even co-operated on the text within the Standing Committee on Organic Farming (SCOF) and thus had the chance to influence the regulation’s substance. It would after all be possible that the uniform organic seal of the EU might make the throng of seals from private certification organisations superfluous. That could be the case if consumers and retail chains posed the justifiable question as to whether a uniform, internationally recognised logo would not be better than the current confusion of organic labels? And that is another reason why the organisations are quick to come up with explanations as to why their standards are much better, more stringent, and more comprehensive than the EU Organic Regulation which apparently only defines minimum requirements in an extremely internationalised market within which there is not even agreement upon what “organic” really means. But for that reason alone the integration of aquaculture in the Organic Regulation was an achievement, said Christopher Stopes, the President of the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) EU Group because it was difficult to reconcile the complex range of opinions within the sector and between the member states.

Naturland welcomed the EU’s Aquaculture Regulation, too, as a means of encouraging ecological fish farming, but at the same time criticised the fact that in large areas it constituted a compromise with positions of conventional industry. Stock densities had been set too high. In the case of trout they were more than twice, in the case of shrimps nearly three times those demanded by the Naturland requirements. Apart from that, the EU Regulation allowed the presence of critical chemicals, for example for impregnating net cages or as preservatives during processing. And a lot of the requirements were too vague, for example regarding the transport of living animals.

The EU Organic Regulation

Only applicable to aquaculture and not to fisheries products

The first proposal for a reform of the regulations for ecological agriculture and labelling of organic products was already presented by the European Commission in 2005. After several rounds of negotiating the new basic regulation (834/2007) was adopted in June 2007. It has been in force since 01.01.2009. Details on its practical implementation are summed up in the Implementing Rules Reg. (EG) 889/2008.

The new Organic Regulation of the EU lays down the legal framework for all levels of production, distribution, control and labelling of organic products that are permitted to be offered and traded on the common market. The regulation applies directly to all organic producers, organic processors and organic distributors in the EU and replaces the old EU organic regulation 2092/91. The similarly new regulation on the labelling of organic products with the obligatory EU organic logo was adjourned by an amendment of the Council Regulation until 1 July 2010.

The Organic Regulation names a number of objectives, principles and basic rules for ecological production and lays down new rules for the import of organic products and their control. It applies to the following agricultural products including aquaculture and yeast:

- Living or unprocessed products

- Processed foods

- Animal feed

- Seeds and propagating material

- Collection of wild plants and marine algae

The regulation does not, however, apply to products from hunting and fishing

The relevant positive lists for processing enterprises from Annex VI of the old, no longer applicable, Reg. (EWG) 2092/91 are now divided up in Reg. (EG) 889/2008, Article 27 and Annexes VIII (Food additives, including carriers) and IX (Non-organic ingredients of agricultural origin). Annexes VI (Feed additives and certain substances for animal nutrition) and V (Non-organic feed-based products of plant origin) now apply to feed producers.

 

As organic as possible or as organic as necessary?

It is a fact that the EU Organic Regulation only demands minimum requirements from producers and allows about 36 different additives, for example. Farmers (agriculturalists) are allowed, for example, to pursue organic and conventional farming on the same site. There is a dispute in the Organic Regulation about the tolerance limit for genetically manipulated components in organic products. The strict ban on the use of genetically manipulated organisms (GMOs) in organic products still applies but there are some exceptions for food additives that are otherwise not available to producers in the market. An upper limit has been set at 0.9% GMO content. The regulation states that these maximum values refer exclusively to a casual and technically unavoidable presence of GMOs”.

In practice such pragmatic rules are of great advantage even if they constitute a deviation from the tenets of hard-line ecologists because they correspond to everyday reality and make work easier for a lot of organic producers. In the medium term they could even contribute towards encouraging more producers to switch to organic fish farming than has so far been the case.

The implementing rules are based on what is practicable and constitute only the smallest common denominator upon which all parties could agree after lengthy discussions.

Even opponents of the EU Organic Regulation cannot deny that it will mean certain progress in a lot of areas. It takes a significant stand on the further development of organic aquaculture geared to sustainability of production and a greater variety of higher quality products. Particular importance is placed on increased environmental protection, preservation of biodiversity and high animal welfare standards. Organic production should respect the systems and cycles of nature. Sustainable production should as far as possible be based on organic and mechanical production techniques without the use of genetically manipulated organisms. In exceptional cases synthetically produced chemical substances can be permitted if there are no suitable alternatives. Their use has, however, to be thoroughly examined and approved by the Commission and member states. Such substances are listed in positive lists in an annex to the regulation.

There are special flexibility rules to balance the climatic, cultural and structural differences that exist between individual regions of the EU which, after all, stretches from the far north to the south and east of Europe.

 

Organic imports from third countries made much easier

Foods can only be labelled ”organic“ if at least 95% of their ingredients were organically produced. If individual ingredients are of ecological origin, this can be stated in the case of non-organic products but only on the list of ingredients. It would thus no longer be permitted to call a product “fish fingers with organic crumb coating”. The organic origin of the crumb coating would have to be banned to the list of ingredients. In order to offer the consumer more transparency and safety, the code number of the control station must also be named. Older packaging material that meets the requirements of regulation (EWG) No. 2092/91 can continue to be used for products up to 1 January 2012 if these organic products are otherwise in accordance with the requirements of regulation (EG) No. 834/2007.

As from 1 July 2010 the producers of packaged organic foods are committed to using the EU organic logo. (The use of the EU logo is obligatory but can be additionally supplemented by individual national or private logos). As from this point in time the code number of the control stations has to be changed to a minimum uniform format (Reg. (EG) 889/2008, Article 58).

The decision is left to the supplier as to whether he uses the EU organic logo on organic foods that were imported from third countries. The distribution of organic products from third countries in the common market under an organic label is basically only permitted if these were produced and controlled under the same or similar conditions to those prevailing in the EU. The import regulations have now been extended. Up to now organic products could only be imported from such third countries as are recognised by the EU (a list of recognised third countries is given in Annex III of the import regulation) or if a member state has examined their production and issued an import authorisation. In place of this import authorisation the EU Commission would prefer to directly authorise inspectors in third countries. Control points which possess such competencies have to apply to the EU Commission and are then authorised by the Commission and member states following appropriate examination.

The advantages of the new procedure are obvious. Because the production conditions in third countries are often different from those in Europe it is only in rare cases that the European production and control requirements can be followed to the letter. In the past a complicated import authorisation procedure was thus necessary for every individual product to test whether it could be imported. This complicated system is now to be replaced by a more simple regulation. The EU Commission recognises similar requirements in third countries which in principle conform to the objectives and principles of organic legislature in Europe. On this basis the authorised control points can then undertake the tests on site. The new “more pragmatic” import rules aim at making organic imports into the EU overall easier, and simultaneously enabling better inspection and control.