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EU organic law: amendments making it more complicated

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The Freiburg lawyer and expert in organic law, Hanspeter Schmidt, and Dr. Manon Haccius, responsible for quality management at Alnatura, explained in a seminar the amendments to existing EU organic law. They provided information for over 100 participants who were mainly representatives from the quality assurance and management departments of manufacturing companies, wholesalers, control organisations and associations.  

Dr Manon Haccius is an expert in EU organic Regulation

Picture: Dr Manon Haccius is an expert in EU Organic Regulation. Photo © Karin Heinze

In the last few months considerable changes have been made to organic legislation that will come into force from April 2017. The important amendments that impact on practical operations include various revised versions of the implementation regulations for imports from third countries (1235/2008). For example, in order to cary out “monitoring of consignments“ and “risk-oriented sampling of imported goods“, in future there will have to be an inspection of goods in addition to the checking of documentation and random identity checks. This means that, after the risk assesment, samples are taken and examined in the laboratory. In future, organic imports will be concentrated on specialised customs offices.

Definition carousel: confusion from Brussels

Schmidt paid particular attention to the new definition of “processed“ and “unprocessed“.  He said that for some products this made it uncertain how they were to be treated in organic controls because, according to the amended Regulation, not only foods that have not been processed are regarded as “unprocessed products“ but also products that have been “cut up, filleted, sliced, boned, minced, skinned, ground, cut, cleansed, garnished, shelled, milled, cooled, frozen, deep-frozen and thawed. This means that in future flour, fruit puree and filleted fish, for example, are “unprocessed“ products, for which different control bodies are responsible when they are imported from third countries into the EU. Schmidt pointed out that in the case of green tea it has  still not been decided whether it is to be treated as processed or unprocesssed. He expects that in Germany differing interpretations will be applied in the federal states. His advice to manufacturers: “Heightened vigilance and consult the authorities and control organisations.“ He said that companies should not rely on simply carrying on as before.

Lawyer Hanspeter Schmidt gave an update of the EU Organic Regulation
Picture: Lawyer Hanspeter Schmidt gave an update of the EU Organic Regulation. Photo © Karin Heinze

New EDP system TRACES

Schmidt presented the data processing system TRACES  that has been used so far for the control of cross-border trading of animals. From April 2017 all control certificates will be available for inspection on this EU-wide computer system. In future, certificates will be issued by the control body that inspected the “final stage of product preparation“ and not by whoever undertook the final stage of “processing“. This is different from recital 10 in sentence 2 that describes it as an objective. Schmidt advised companies to be vigilant here too regarding all the details of control certificates from third countries. A transitional period for control certificates without TRACES applies until 19 October 2017.
A new definition is also given to "importers" and "processors": Imports are brought by the “importer“ onto the territory of the EU. To comply with the amended  Article 13 of Regulation 1235/2008 he is tasked with dealing with customs formalities. The "first consignee" is the firm that processes and/or markets the goods and is responsible for all further formalities. Schmidt said they faced new challenges dealing with the rules on the CN code (customs number) and the type of transport that is necessary in even greater detail (flight number, ship's name, vehicle registration number).

The participants introduced themselves for networking

Picture: The auditory is listening to the introduction of one of the participants

Coherence and leniency for witnesses

The new organic law, possibly in the final stage of voting, is casting its shadow in, for example, the form of striving for coherence – another way of saying “what doesn't fit is made to fit“, said Schmidt. He sees a consequence of this in the new version of the control regulation. The successor to the EU Regulation dealing with food controls (882/2006) will also regulate controls in the organic sector. Schmidt pointed out that this approach will lead to all sorts of complications: only very rarely do food inspectors have any idea of organic farming or farming practice. He called the introduction of rules governing leniency for witnesses a new instrument to tackle irregularities and infringements. Sanctions amounting to 10% of a company's turnover could be extended. He regarded the right to information and taking your own samples when official samples are being taken in retail as a positive development.

Picture: Audience follows the questions of a participant. Photo © Karin Heinze

From aquaculture to wine growing

Schmidt and Haccius commented on amendments in the implementation regulation 2016/1330 of August 2016 relating to third countries and equivalence controls. Canada is now included and the list of control bodies in all countries has been drawn up alphabetically according to country code. In aquaculture, microalgae have been included in the regulations. In the case of wine, current oenoligical ageing processes can continue to be used.

Schmidt's conclusion: implementing the regulations is becoming more expensive and it is more likely that mistakes will be made, especially in the case of small and medium-size companies. “Whether a product can be marketed as organic depends on formalities. The bureaucratic juggernaut is making it increasingly complex and more complicated to retain an overview.“




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