16 September 2020, 06:00 AM
  • More than 30 organisations representing the organic food and drink sector warn that if equivalence is not agreed upon in Brexit deal, the UK’s high-quality organic food could be outright banned from European markets
UK organic food exports face the possibility of exclusion from the EU market

With its top-quality produce, the UK is the world’s ninth-largest organic market. Exportation of organic products is an essential means of revenue for many organic businesses and, according to statistics from a 2018 Exports Survey by the Soil Association, the global sales are steadily increasing for most UK businesses each year. In fact, sales of organic products boomed during the lockdown earlier this year, and the sector is now predicted to reach the £2.6bn mark by the end of 2020, far exceeding the £2.5bn originally projected by the Soil Association.

However, unless organic standards ‘equivalence’ is secured as part of the negotiations, the UK will lose access to EU markets automatically at 11pm on 31st December. This would bring significant practical and financial problems for the dynamic, fast-growing and highly-prized British food sector. Manufacturers in Northern Ireland would likely lose access to essential sources of organic ingredients or products produced in Great Britain in favour of goods from EU member states, which would be imported without additional administration or certification requirements.

“The market for organic food is an essential and growing part of the UK’s import and export economy,” says Roger Kerr, chairman of The UK Organic Certifiers Group (UKOCG). “It’s one of a very few sectors which potentially face overnight exclusion from a vital market if a mutual recognition agreement between the UK and EU is not achieved before the December 31st deadline.”

So what’s the answer?

More than 30 organisations representing the organic food and drink sector have written an official letter to the Chief UK Negotiator, Lord Frost, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, to express their deep concern about the future of trade and certification of organic products between the UK and the EU.

The letter warns of the detrimental impacts on the organic market if a mutual agreement between the UK and EU is not achieved by the end of the year, pointing out how organic food exports from the UK face the possibility of being excluded from the EU market.

“By co-signing this letter as a sector, we are urging the UK Government to recognise what is at jeopardy here as we enter a new regime with the EU,” explains Roger. “Securing mutual agreement between the UK and the EU in relation to organic certification must be a priority for the negotiators.”

Richard Hampton, managing director of Omsco agrees: “Growth in organic food and drink sales has accelerated globally during the Coronavirus pandemic. The UK is very well placed to take advantage of these trade opportunities given the strength of the UK organic production sector and the UK’s reputation for high quality and product safety. At Omsco, we are seeing this trend first hand, with European customers seeking increased volumes for next year for our quality organic dairy products sourced from our UK dairy farm owners.

“Access to the European market is vital not just because of the growth opportunities that it affords, but also because our spread of markets and products allows us to deliver the flexibility and availability to our UK customers and consumers. The loss of these markets will damage efficiencies, reduce flexibility and increase costs at a precarious economic time. We are just one of many successful UK organic food businesses in this position and we need an urgent resolution to the situation.”

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