European Court of Auditors Press Release (ECA/12/30), 26 June 2012
This European Court of Auditors’ (ECA) performance audit focuses on the effectiveness of the system for supervising organic production and how the various institutions involved (the EU Commission and the competent Member State authorities, accreditation bodies and control bodies) have fulfilled their responsibilities with regard to both the control system within the EU and the management of the import schemes currently in operation.
According to the Commission, EU consumers can be sure that when they buy an organic apple or a piece of organic beef from their local supermarket, it has been produced according to strict rules. The control system for organic products, as set out in the EU Regulations, aims at guaranteeing that the production processes conform to organic principles. For organic products originating within the EU, Member States must set up a system of checks. Control bodies, which carry out these checks at the level of individual operators (such as producers, processors and importers) are central to this system. Organic products from outside the EU may be recognised as organic, if the production rules and control system applied to them are considered equivalent to the EU’s.
The Court considers that the shortcomings highlighted by its audit need to be remedied in order to provide sufficient assurance that the system is operating effectively and ensure that consumer confidence is not undermined.
The ECA’s special report (No. 9/2012) concludes that a number of competent authorities in the Member States do not sufficiently fulfill their supervisory role over control bodies. As a result certain control bodies fail to satisfy a number of EU requirements and fail to take the opportunity to implement certain good practices. The Commission had not audited Member States’ control systems between 2001 and the time of the Court’s audit. Also, the competent authorities in Member States encounter difficulties in ensuring the traceability of organic products within their territories and such traceability is even more difficult to achieve for products that have crossed borders. In relation to imported organic products, the system governing the various import schemes was also found to have weaknesses. These and other conclusions are detailed in the special report.
A number of recommendations are made to remedy the weaknesses found during the ECA’s audit:
The Commission’s replies show broad agreement with the Court's recommendations and indicate its intention to follow them, including specific audits on the control systems for organic production by the Food and Veterinary Office from 2012 onwards..
Organic production is an overall system of farm management and food production that aims at sustainable agriculture, the production of high quality products and the use of processes that do not harm the environment, human, plant or animal health and animal welfare. The classification of a product as organic therefore depends on it having been produced in compliance with this system, rather than on the characteristics of the product itself. The organic market has rapidly developed and experienced annual growth rates of more than 10% in the last two decades. The European market for organic food amounts to about 20 billion euro annually, representing an estimated 1.5 % share of the entire food market.
A copy of the report described above can be found at: http://eca.europa.eu/portal/pls/portal/docs/1/15220773.PDF