What is New on the Organic Front in the EU?

The production of organic foods has been regulated at European level for quite a long time, EC Regulation 834/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council (further: Regulation) laying down the principles and rules. However, since 2007 the organic farming sector of the EU has developed rapidly and as foreseen in the Regulation, a review was needed and conducted to take into account the experience gained from the application of the rules. The results of this review showed that the legal framework governing organic production should be improved to provide rules that correspond to the high expectations of consumers and guarantee sufficient clarity. To accommodate these needs, a new Regulation on organic farming was published: (EU) 2018/848 of the European Parliament and of the Council on organic production and labelling of organic products (further: New Regulation).

So, what changes with this New Regulation?

Bags of groceries

  1. Categories that can be organic certified

The New Regulation defines three main categories of products that can be organic certified:

  • Live and unprocessed agricultural products (such as animals, plants, seeds, mushrooms)
  • Processed food
  • Animal feed

Apart from these, Annex I of the New Regulation provides a list of products that are not clearly covered by these categories but still can be certified. This list includes but is not limited to specific yeasts, matè, vine leaves, palm hearts, etc. It also includes sea salt and other salts for food and feed even if those are not living organisms.

  1. Production rules for food processors

Flavours

Since the regulation was published, the Commission has received many questions for clarification from various stakeholders on different aspects and the use of flavourings in organic foods is one of them. Today, all natural flavourings are allowed in organic production. With the new Regulation it is clear that;

  • organic flavourings as well as
  • non-organic “natural flavouring substances” (labelled according to Art. 16(3) of Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008 on flavourings) and non-organic “natural <X> flavourings” (labelled according to Art. 16(4) of Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008 on flavourings)

are allowed for use in organic food products.

Strawberry next to flavour vial

However it is not clear if all combinations of these two flavouring categories are permitted or not. For example according to IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) EU Group, when the new regulation is effective only natural flavourings originating from the mentioned ingredients can be used in organic processing. This means only “natural lemon flavouring” will be allowed (the flavouring part is at least 95% obtained from lemon).

While on the other hand a few other stakeholders share the opinion that any mixture of such flavouring ingredients can be used in the final foods and this may result in final food labelling according to all options including “natural <X> flavouring with other natural flavourings” (e.g. natural lemon flavouring with other natural flavourings) and “natural flavouring”. Hopefully this issue will be clarified by the Commission via a guidance document that is expected to be published in Q1 2019.

Origin of ingredients and nanomaterials

With the new regulation, there will be slightly increased flexibility regarding the origin indication of the ingredients. Currently, if the producer would like to highlight the origin of an ingredient, at least 98% has to be farmed in the indicated place, this will be reduced to 95%.

Basket of colorful vegetables

Other areas where the rules will be relaxed a little, concern group certifications in the EU, where a small group of farmers could get certified as a single entity, and retailers only selling pre-packaged organic products will not need certifications, but will be checked as part of the general official controls legislation. Also, Member States will have the possibility to exempt farmers selling small quantities of organic products directly to the final consumer from certification.

The exclusion of food containing engineered nanomaterials is new.

  1. Imports

The New Regulation will recognise two systems to import organic products from outside the EU:

  • Trade agreements: Third Countries (13 at the moment) being recognised will have to renegotiate their terms for trade agreement under the new EU procedure.
  • Certifiers: the Commission will establish a list of recognised control bodies / authorities that will be authorised to perform controls and certification in Third Countries.

These new rules will be applicable from the 1st of January 2021.

  • Marianna Domolki, BS

    After earning her degree in Food Engineering, Marianna worked in the Ministry of Agriculture in Hungary for nearly 8 years. Apart from being responsible for the national food legislation, she participated in a number of expert working groups at the European Commission thus actively taking part in the creation of legislation such as food labelling, nutrition and health claims, food contaminants, additives or food contact materials. During these years she also had the opportunity to represent Hungary at the Codex Alimentarius Commission and several of its Committees.