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Developing organic products without undermining consumer trust

Preserving consumer confidence is the key aim of a report on plans to recast EU rules governing organic products, which was adopted by the EP Agriculture Committee on 27 February.

Stricter standards for the use of plant-health and veterinary products, stronger guarantees against contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs), reliable labeling and tougher inspections, including those on imports, are among the priorities of MEPs. The consultation report was approved - in heavily amended form. However, the vote was close on many parts of the text, so further changes may be made at the plenary vote.

Preventing contamination by GMOs
According to the European Commission foodstuffs could not legally be sold as „organic” if they contain GMOs, unless they are contaminated accidentally and even then only up to the current Community threshold of 0.9% of GMOs allowed for conventional food. Among their amendments (which are not binding on the Council), MEPs wish to spell out the more clearly that GMOs are banned in organic products, that no „products produced from or with GMOs” may be used in organic production, and that there are no exceptions to this, even for veterinary medicines.
Members of the Agriculture Committee also want to tighten up the regulation's wording so that operators throughout the food production chain (farmers, suppliers, manufacturers of animal feed, processors) „must” ensure that their products do not contain GMOs and, „in the case of an adventitious or technically unavoidable contamination with GMO”, they must be able to „supply evidence that they have taken all necessary steps” to avoid such contamination. However, an amendment referring to a threshold for such contamination was not adopted.

Stricter standards and limited derogations
Members also adopted amendments laying down stricter rules for the use of plant-health products and veterinary treatments as well as national derogations thereto.

Logos and labeling particulars
The Agriculture Committee believes the European logo (to be used for food where 95% of the ingredients are organic) and the term „EU ORGANIC” should be compulsory on such products but that the logos of private certification bodies better known to consumers should be allowed as well. The use of the Community logo would not be permitted for processed products or those from farms in the process of conversion to organic production.

Tightening up controls, including those on imports
The Agriculture Committee stresses that national control bodies should be accredited in line with European standards. In addition, Member States must ensure that their inspection systems enable products to be traced through all stages of production, preparation and distribution, to guarantee consumers that organic products have been produced in line with the new rules.
An up-to-date list of control authorities and approved control bodies must be made available to interested parties. Moreover, operators from non-EU countries must be in a position to provide importers or national authorities with documentary evidence issued by a competent Community control body.

Regulation to apply to catering industry too
The Agriculture Committee argues that the regulation should cover the catering industry (take-aways, canteens, restaurants and similar service providers) as well as products such as wool, food supplements and essential oils. And, more generally, apart from the production, processing, packaging and labeling of products, the new rules should also cover „conditioning”, manufacture and storage, say MEPs.
Lastly, the committee says the regulation should be adopted under the co-decision procedure between Parliament and the Council, since it covers the production and distribution of processed food in the single market, which comes under this procedure, and not only agricultural produce, which comes under the consultation procedure. The new regulation will take effect on 1 January 2009. (EP Press)