An agreement on new rules for organic farming has been endorsed by European Council representatives.

It is hoped the rules, provisionally agreed back in July and ratified yesterday (20 November), will simplify and harmonise many of the rules covering organic food production both within the European Union and in non-EU countries.

The agreement will now go to vote in the European Parliament. Once adopted, the new rules will enter into force on 1 January 2021. It is suggested this will give enough time for producers, operators and trade partners to adapt to the new framework.

The European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, said: “Today’s decision of the Council is another milestone for the organic sector, which ensures that this important and rapidly growing sector can continue to expand with clear rules and can be assured of being on an equal footing with producers from non-EU countries who export their organic produce into the EU.

“What everyone agreed on was that the current rules – which are 20 years old now – were not fit for purpose and were likely to hinder rather than help the development of this growing sector which is worth around EUR27bn (US$31.69bn), and has grown by 125% over the last decade. 

“We must support this growth by ensuring that the sector operates with appropriate legislation. This growth will be helped by smaller producers, who will now be allowed to join group certification schemes so as to benefit from lower certification costs. Moreover, organic farmers will now have access to a new market of organic seeds which will improve biodiversity, crop sustainability and will boost innovation.”

The negotiations lasted for more than three years.

The new rules endorsed put an end to the current system of exceptions. The same rules will apply to all organic producers and products sold in the EU, whether produced domestically or imported. 

Tighter precautionary measures should also reduce the risk of accidental contamination by unauthorised substances.