Food Law News - EU - 2006

Council Press Release, 22 May 2006

ORGANIC FOODS Discussion in Council of Ministers

The following is an extract from the report of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council Meeting held on, 22 May 2006


The Council held a policy debate on a proposal for Council Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products (5101/06). The other proposal on organic foodstuffs amends Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91 on organic production of agricultural products and indications referring thereto in agricultural products and foodstuffs.

The debate was structured on the basis of the following questions drawn up by the Presidency:

1. Do Member States agree with the general orientation of the Commission's proposal?

A large majority of delegations supported the aim of simplification, harmonization and modernisation as set out in the proposals; a few delegations however expressed their concerns as regards the risk of over-administrative burden for organic producers and insisted on the need to clarify rules of labelling and logos applicable to organic products so that consumers could not be misled.

Commissioner Fischer-Boel thanked the delegations for their support.

2. Do you want to include the mass catering within the scope of the proposed Regulation, or, as the Commission proposal implies, to leave Member States the choice to deal with this under national rules?

A majority of delegations supported the inclusion of mass catering and large-scale kitchen in the scope of the proposal; however some of these delegations insisted on the need to apply specific rules to this sector, or stressed the importance of drawing up national rules for controls; Several delegations asked for mass catering to be excluded from the scope of the proposal, arguing that according to the principle of subsidiarity , this competence shall be left to Member States and that rules on traceability were very difficult to apply to this sector.

Commissioner Fischer-Boel, whilst taking into account the opinions expressed by the large majority of delegations, underlined that large-scale kitchen shall be kept out from the proposal as it was necessary not to create additional administrative burden and as this exclusion from the current proposal does not prevent mass catering from being covered by the controls foreseen by the horizontal Regulations on food and feed. Furthermore she added that Member States could also use national controls on large-scale kitchen products.

3. Do you consider that the logo and/or indication "EU ORGANIC" should be obligatory?

A majority of delegations could support the idea of a compulsory Community logo or of the indication "EU ORGANIC" while some of these delegations stressed that such logo shall not mislead the consumer and shall provide clear information on the content of the product. Other delegations supported a voluntary logo or indication rather than a Community compulsory logo.

Commissioner Fischer-Boel insisted on the absolute need for an EU logo or a label such as "EU ORGANIC" and emphasised that such indication or logo would not prevent Member States from using private or national logos.

The working party met six times on this dossier and will meet again under the Austrian Presidency on 29 May and 8 June in order to forward these proposals to the Finnish Presidency, once their technical examination has been completed.

Apart from the three questions, several delegations also expressed their concerns as regard the issue of a lower threshold for organic products than the one used (0.9%) for the maximum content of genetically modified organisms in a conventional product. Several delegations raised the issue of the management committee foreseen to implement the the new draft Regulation and called for maintaining the current comitology procedure (Regulatory committee). Finally some countries questioned the issue of direct access to the Community market of organic products from third countries.

The two proposals presented by the Commission in December 2005 in the follow-up of the Council conclusions on the European Action Plan for Organic Food and Farming aim at simplifying the current legal framework and assure overall coherency by reducing the level of detail in the current Regulation and its implementing rules. The new legislation will define the objectives and principles of organic production but allow certain amount of flexibility to take account of regional differences in climate and conditions. Producers will be able to choose whether or not to use the EU organic logo. If they choose not to, their products must be labelled "EU organic". At least 95% of the final product has to be organic in order for it to be labelled as such. It should be noted that products containing GMOs cannot be labelled as organic, except if the GMO content is due to accidental contamination and does not exceed 0.9%. The proposal also aims at developing permanent import rules based on direct access for fully compliant or equivalent products.

Certain import provisions in the current legislation expire on 31 December 2006 . In order not to disrupt international trade, it is proposed to extend the possibility for Member States to continue to grant import authorisations for individual products until the new regime has been put in place.

The two proposals are being dealt with under the advisory procedure (Article 37 of the Treaty) and therefore the Opinion of the European Parliament is not legally binding. The adoption of the EP's Opinion is scheduled in autumn 2006. These proposals do not have a financial impact on the Community budget.

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