The EU’s organic logo has not been a conspicuous success. There are suggestions that its use should be made compulsory, but several EU countries already have logos for organic food. Is an EU-wide logo the way forward, or should national organic certifiers’ logos take precedence? Chris Lyddon reports.

The EU’s organic logo, which included the stars from the EU flag and the words “Organic Farming – EC Control System”, was introduced in March 2000. It was to be used on a voluntary basis for products which satisfied EU regulation 2092/91 which governs organic food.

EU Action Plan delayed

There is speculation that the EU’s forthcoming Organic Action Plan, which at one time was expected to be out in April, would make the use of the logo compulsory. European Commission spokesman Johann Reyniers said the Commission could not yet say what would be in the plan. “The Action Plan has not been approved and it’s not yet in its final version,” he told He expected to see the plan some time in June. The idea of making the logo compulsory had been floated in meetings with stakeholders earlier in the year, he said. “Even if it’s in the Action Plan, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen,” he added.

Kai Kreuzer, editor of “Biofach”, a German magazine covering the organic sector, reckons the Commission would like to force the logo onto the European organic sector. “Franz Fischler (the EU’s agriculture commissioner) has never distanced himself from the idea,” he told But he noted that German consumer minister Renate Künast had been vehemently opposed from the start.

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Thomas Dosch, board director of Germany’s Bioland, one of the biggest organic certifiers in Europe, is distinctly sceptical about the idea of a Europe-wide logo. “The German organic logo, which was proposed by consumer minister Renate Künast, has achieved a certain trust among consumers. I would expect trust in an EU logo to be more limited,” he told “The image of an EU logo would not be as good. I’d assume that would be the same in Denmark, or France, which also have their own logos.”

French and Danish logos enjoy high recognition

The French logo, “La marque AB”, for Agriculture Biologique, is recognised by 66% of consumers, according to a survey carried out in January 2003 for Agence Bio, the government body which is responsible for the logo. The Danish logo, called the Ø-label, has been around since 1989 and is recognised by 94% of consumers.

Although Bioland has its own logo, Dosch is a supporter of the German national organic symbol. “We needed a clear symbol for products produced according to the legal standard, whether they come from EU or third countries,” he said. “But private logos can exist as well.”

Bioland tells its members to use the government-sponsored logo as well as the Bioland symbol. “The Bioland logo has been shown in surveys to achieve a very high level of recognition,” he said “Consumers do have a level of trust in Bioland.”

Germany’s logo has been taken up by the industry. According to Dosch it is already being used on around 20,000 products from 1,000 different companies. It is a very different picture with the EU’s organic label. “The EU logo has not been taken up here at all,” Dosch said. “The only place I’ve seen it is Italy, where they are very much oriented towards the export market.”

According to the German government’s organic information website, 1,083 companies were using the German logo on 20,837 products by March 2004. The logo was introduced in September 2001.

For Dosch, the point of the German state-sponsored logo was to cover any product which is organic under the EU regulation, wherever its origin. “We fought to make sure that the German logo would cover all products from whatever country and we were successful,” he said.

Karlsruhe-based lawyer Hanspeter Schmidt, who specialises in and writes on the law relating to organic food, including labelling, says the main objection to the EU logo is that it was planned as part of a family of logos. “The EU Commission was told by all sides it would never work,” he said. The organic logo resembles logos used for Protected Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication, which relate products to their areas of origin.

Promoting the EU, not organic food

The most noticeable thing about the EU’s logo was that it came from the EU. “ All people would notice was that they have something to do with the EU,” he said. “It’s more PR for the European Commission than information for consumers.”

But the Commission had not been persuaded. Schmidt believes it would be possible to have an EU logo that worked. “If there were a clearly differentiated EU logo then I would change my mind,” he said. “The German logo would not have been invented had there been an effective EU logo system.”

“The big organic organisations think they can achieve an advantage in the market by having different logos,” he said. “I think that’s a mistake.” But it was a difficult question for each organic certifier how to position themselves in the organic market.

It was the refusal of the supermarkets to support a logo that did not apply to all organic food which had really forced the government to make its logo international in scope. “They don’t want to find they’re bringing in organic beef from Argentina and it looks to the consumer as though it’s in some way a lesser sort of organic,” he said. “That is why the German logo covers products from around the world.”
In the UK, the Soil Association, the biggest organic body, is particularly keen to hang on to its own label. “We feel in particular that consumers in the UK are very aware of the Soil Association label,” Soil Association spokeswoman Sue Flook told “If the EU logo replaced separate labels there would be a problem.”

Although the European Commission believes in its logo and continues, in a low key way, to promote it, the European organic sector appears united in a lack of enthusiasm. Left behind by logos in countries like Germany and ignored in Britain, it looks like an orphan. It remains to be seen whether the European action plan will attempt to push the logo further, but it looks like any attempt to broaden its use would face a struggle.