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A “significant hurdle” for trade in organic products has been removed after the European Union agreed to recognise the UK’s organic sector. The news was welcomed by the industry, which sells £225m worth of organic produce to the EU every year.
The decision means that the UK’s six organic certification bodies will be recognised for 12 months following the end of the EU Exit transition period, avoiding what had been called an organic export “catastrophe”.
NFU organic forum chair Andrew Burgess said exports to the EU are an important part of the UK organic supply chain, and to be able to continue to export to that key market from January is “a huge relief”.
“While not the full mutual equivalency we have been pressing for, this decision should offer short-term certainty for those organic businesses who’ve been concerned over losing access to this valuable market,” Andrew said.
Positive news for a growing sector
The UK’s organic market has thrived in recent months, with demand for organic food post-lockdown reaching a three-year high due to a growing interest in ethical food and animal welfare.
A survey for Organic September, a campaign by the Organic Trade Board and the Soil Association, found that more than 12 million Brits were more likely to buy organic after the pandemic had hit than they were before.
Roger Kerr, chief executive at OF&G (Organic Farmers & Growers), said that only around 5% of UK organic products are destined for the EU market, but “UK organic supply and demand is so finely balanced that the loss of these markets would have undoubtedly had a negative impact on producer returns at a time of considerable economic uncertainty”.
Lee Holdstock, trade relations manager for Soil Association Certification, said he was “delighted” that extensive talks had “paid off”
“It’s with huge relief we can confirm that Soil Association Certification and all other UK organic certification bodies are now listed within the most recent amend to regulation EC1235/2008, until at least the end of 2021,” Lee said.
“We welcome EU recognition of the value of these exports to the UK’s burgeoning organic market, which is now on track to reach £2.6bn by end of 2020, after reaching its highest growth level in over a decade at 9.5%.”
Beyond 2021, uncertainty remains
Despite the good news, Roger said that in the long term there is more work to be done.
“The recognition is only for 12 months, which means that UK organic control bodies will have to apply again next year. And with the implementation of the new EU organic regulation on 1 January 2022, there remains uncertainty around which EU organic regulation equivalence will have to be sought.
“Therefore, the best possible outcome for UK and EU operators would be to secure a national organic equivalency agreement between the UK and EU.”
While there is still no clarity on a deal with the EU and whether tariffs will apply on imports from the UK, Patty Clayton lead analyst for dairy at the AHDB, said that the agreement “removes a significant hurdle for trade in organic products.”
“However,” she added, “there will still be additional administrative and licensing requirements regardless of the final outcome of trade talks.”
Lee said the Soil Association Certification will continue to work with the European Commission as details are set out and labelling guidance and news regarding grace periods will be shared “as a matter of urgency”.
While much still remains undecided about the UK and EU’s relationship after the Brexit transition period ends, for now the organic industry can breathe a sigh of relief.