GMOs and Pesticides Could Be Tolerated in Organic Food Under New EU Rules

MEPs have voted not to strip organic agricultural products of their certification if they are contaminated with GMOs or pesticides, as the majority of cases of contamination are accidental. EurActiv’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

The European Parliament’s Agriculture committee (AGRI) adopted a report containing a set of proposed revisions to EU organic farming standards on Monday (8 February). One change that met with mixed reactions from MEPs was a relaxation of the organic certification requirements.

The report came after the European Commission offered to apply more strict rules on the organic farming industry. The organic industry is growing very fast, so they want to improve the rules and regulations.

But most of the countries have refused to apply such rules for obtaining organic certification. A French Green MEP, José Bové shared his concerns regarding the latest possible restrictions on the organic certification. The largest market for organic products, Germany also had concerns on new regulations.

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Verification system

In the start of 2015, the European Commission presented new regulations for the organic verification system. The improvements included some compulsory controls on sellers and few punishments if banned ingredients are found in organic products.

Unfortunately, the AGRI committee refused the new restrictions. Also, they voted to exclude the “decertification program” for organic items that contains pesticides or genetically modified organisms.

The end of mixed agriculture

There is a large chance that organic items can be contaminated accidentally. For instance, they can be contaminated by pesticides spray in nearby fields or while transporting from one location to another.

The producers will lose the organic certification if the contamination crosses a certain level. The France’s main certifier of organic farms, Ecocert stated that ten percent of organic products are decertified each year. But, the farmers who intentionally include banned ingredients are only 0.5 percent.

To avoid accidental contamination, the European Commission proposed to end the practice of mixed farming. This would effectively mean that an organically certified field could not be “in the same area” as a field where conventional techniques are used, a rule that could open the door to complex and drawn-out legal processes comparable to those seen in the debate over GMOs.

The Commission proposal also put forward the idea of “group certification”, to help smaller farmers join the organic sector.

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Holding back agro-ecology

But concerns have been raised in France over the possibility that the proposed new rules might hold back the expansion of the budding agro-ecology sector.

Bové stressed the difficulties organic farmers face when their land is bordered by conventional farmland. If unintentional pollution causes damage to organic crops, he argued, then the cost should be incurred by whomever caused the damage.

MEPs supported the introduction of preventive measures for pesticide use above specifically defined pollution thresholds for organic foods.

Adverse effects

While consumers would undoubtedly benefit from the stronger new legislation, the Commission’s proposed reforms may also have the adverse effect of discouraging new farmers from joining the organic sector. And relaxing the basic rules of organic farming too much could harm the sector’s credibility.

According to the European Commission, in 2013, there were 200,000 organic farms in the EU, covering 10.5 million hectares, or almost 6% of all farmland. The sector’s revenue one year earlier, in 2012, was over €22.2 billion, and has grown by 8% year on year.

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