Origin, development and definition of organic farming
Origin and development of organic farming, and the development of standards
The emergence of a new kind of farming: different approaches
Organic farming is the outcome of theory and practice since the early years of the 20th century, involving a variety of alternative methods of agricultural production, mainly in northern Europe.
There have been three important movements:
· Biodynamic agriculture, which appeared in Germany under the inspiration of Rudolf Steiner;
· Organic farming, which originated in England on the basis of the theories developed by Albert Howard in his Agricultural Testament (1940);
· Biological agriculture, which was developed in Switzerland by Hans-Peter Rusch and Hans Müller.
Despite some differences of emphasis, the common feature of all these movements, which are the source of some of the terms protected by Community rules, is to stress the essential link between farming and nature, and to promote respect for natural equilibria. They distance themselves from the interventionist approach to farming, which maximises yields through the use of various kinds of synthetic products.
Despite the vitality of these movements, organic farming remained undeveloped in Europe for many years.
Development of organic farming
Throughout the 1950s, the main aim of farming was to achieve a major improvement in productivity so as to
satisfy immediate needs for food and raise the European
Community’s rate of self-sufficiency. In the circum-stances,
organic farming was obviously unlikely to be
viewed very favourably.
By the end of the 1960s, however, and especially in the 1970s, organic farming came to the forefront in response to the emerging awareness of environmental conservation issues. New associations grew up, involving
producers, consumers and others interested in ecology and a lifestyle more in tune with nature. These organisations draw up their own specifications, with rules governing production methods.
It was in the 1980s, however, that organic farming really took off, when the new production method continued to develop, along with consumer interest in its products, not only in most European countries, but also in the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan. There was a major increase in the number of producers, and new initiatives got under way for processing and marketing organic products.
This situation conducive to the development of organic farming was very largely due to consumers’ strong concern to be supplied with wholesome, environment-friendly products. At the same time, the public authorities
were gradually recognising organic farming, including it among their research topics and adopting specific legislation (e.g. in Austria, France and Denmark). Some Member States also grant national or regional subsidies to organic farmers.
However, despite all these efforts, organic farming was still hampered by lack of clarity: consumers were not always sure about what was really covered by organic farming, and the restrictions it implied. The reasons for the confusion lay, among other things, in the existence of a number of different “schools” or “philosophies”, the lack of harmonised terminology, the non-standard presentation of products and the tendency to blur the distinctions between concepts such as organic, natural, wholesome and so on. The situation was not helped by cases of fraudulent use of labelling referring to organic methods.
Definition of organic farming
To define the concept of organic farming, we may refer to the definition developed by the Codex Alimentarius, on the basis of contributions from experts from all over the world. According to the Codex, organic farming
involves holistic production management systems (for crops and livestock) emphasising the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs. This is accomplished by using, where possible, cultural, biological and mechanical methods in preference to synthetic materials.
The Codex guidelines specify that an organic production system is designed to:
· “enhance biological diversity within the whole system;
· increase soil biological activity;
· maintain long-term soil fertility;
· recycle wastes of plant and animal origin in order to return nutrients to the land, thus minimising the use of non-renewable resources;
· rely on renewable resources in locally organised agricultural systems;
· promote the healthy use of soil, water and air as well as minimise all forms of pollution thereto that may result from agricultural practices;
· handle agricultural products with emphasis on careful processing methods in order to maintain the organic integrity and vital qualities of the product at all stages;
· become established on any existing farm through a period of conversion, the appropriate length of which is determined by site-specific factors such as the history of the land, and type of crops and livestock to be produced”.
Organic livestock farming is based on the principle of a close link between the animals and the soil. The need for a link with the soil requires animals to have free access to outside areas for exercise, and also implies that their feed should be not only organic, but preferably
produced on the farm. This sector of organic farming is, moreover, very strictly regulated by provisions on animal welfare and veterinary care.
The objectives of organic farming are identical whether we consider crop products or animal products: they comprise the application of production methods that do not damage the environment, more respectful use of the countryside, concern for animal welfare and the achievement of high-quality agricultural products.
As these objectives are not easily quantifiable, the best way of pursuing them in practice so as to draw a clear distinction between organic and conventional farming was to codify acceptable procedures. This was done first through private specifications, then through official rules or guidelines at national or international level.
Rules governing organic production on farms
Part B of Annex I to Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91, as amended on 19 July 1999 by Regulation (EC) No 1804/1999, lays down minimum rules for organic livestock production. The Member States may adopt stricter rules, under Article 12 of Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91, concerning the animals and animal products produced on their territory.
The general principles applicable to organic livestock production require recognition of the interdependence between animals and the soil; consequently, landless production is not an option. As organic stockfarming is a land-related activity, livestock must have access to a
free-range area and the number of animals per unit of area must be limited.
The principle of separation requires all livestock on one and the same production unit to be reared in accordance with the rules governing organic production. Exceptions to this requirement cannot be authorised unless proper measures are taken to ensure that there can be no
confusion between organic and conventional production.
Part B of Annex I to Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91 also lays down rules on the conversion period and the origin of the animals. There are two aspects to conversion: the conversion of the land associated with livestock production, and the conversion of the livestock.
When herds are constituted, the breed of animal must be carefully chosen so that the animals are adapted to their environment and resistant to certain diseases. Livestock must come from holdings that comply with the rules governing organic farming, and must be reared in
accordance with those rules throughout their lives.
Part B also lays down rules on feed. Livestock must be fed on organic feedingstuffs, preferably produced on the holding. Feed should be primarily natural, which means that the feeding of young mammals must be based on natural milk for a minimum period laid down in Annex I. Precise rules are laid down on the composition of the daily diet and the raw materials and other substances used for animal feed.
Disease prevention and veterinary treatment must concentrate mainly on prevention. As well as choosing appropriate breeds of animals, the measures to be applied concern animal husbandry practices to encourage resistance to disease, the use of high-quality feed, and ensuring an appropriate density of livestock.
If disease occurs despite all these preventive measures, priority should be given to natural treatments (e.g. phytotherapeutic and homeopathic) rather than to antibiotics and allopathic veterinary medicines, which may
leave residues. However, allopathic veterinary medicinal products or antibiotics may be used under certain conditions if they are essential to the animal’s recovery. The use of substances such as hormones to stimulate growth or to control reproduction is categorically prohibited.
Animal welfare provisions subject certain practices, such as tail-docking, cutting of teeth, trimming of beaks and dehorning, to authorisation, which is granted only where necessary to ensure the safety, hygiene, health or welfare of the animals. It is forbidden as a rule to keep
livestock tethered, and general housing conditions must meet the animals’ physiological and behavioural needs. Very strict standards are laid down for buildings. Transport of livestock must be carried out with due consideration for the animals’ welfare, and in such a way as to
Beekeeping: a special case
Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91 also applies to beekeeping, which is a very special branch of production. Consequently, specific rules are laid down for this activity, in part C of Annex I.
Two main principles should be stressed:
· For beekeeping, the conversion period is only one year;
· The siting of apiaries is strictly controlled. Nectar and pollen sources available over a three-kilometre radius around the apiary sites must consist essentially of organically produced crops or crops treated with low-environmental-impact methods. Apiaries must also be far enough away from any non-agricultural production source that could lead to contamination (e.g. urban centres, waste dumps, waste incinerators, etc.). Member States have the option of prohibiting the production of organic honey in certain regions or areas that do not meet these conditions.
Rules on processing organic agricultural products into foodstuffs
Rules on processing are laid down in Article 5 and in Annex VI to the Regulation.
Community rules strike a balance between consumer demand for products that are as natural as possible, the need for a sufficiently wide choice of food presented under the “organic” label and the technological constraints of processing.
Consequently, while Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91 does not totally exclude ingredients of non-agricultural origin (food additives, flavourings, water and salt, micro-organism preparations and minerals), it strictly
limits their use; the same applies to processing aids essential to the preparation of foodstuffs from agricultural products of organic origin. Parts A and B of Annex VI to Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91 contain lists
of the substances authorised in the processing of organic products.
In addition to these restrictions, Article 5 prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms and treatments involving the use of ionising radiation. Moreover, in order to prevent fraud, an ingredient obtained according to organic methods may not be present together with the
same ingredient obtained according to conventional methods.
The use of ingredients of agricultural origin produced by conventional methods is limited to certain percentages, and is conditional on the organic ingredient not being available. The ingredients concerned are, in principle, listed in part C of Annex VI, but the Member States may also issue national authorisations.
Labelling and the Community organic farming logo
Labelling and advertising may refer to organic production methods only where they make it clear that the information relates to a method of agricultural production. The product concerned must comply with the provisions of Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91. Moreover, the operator must be subject to the inspection measures laid down in the Regulation, and the name and/or code number of the inspection authority must be indicated.
The rules on indications referring to organic production methods stipulate the minimum percentage of agricultural ingredients that must be of organic origin.
Labelling and advertising of a food product may bear indications referring to organic production methods in the sales description only where at least 95% of the ingredients of agricultural origin are organic. Food
products may thus contain up to 5% of ingredients produced by conventional methods as long as those ingredients are not available (e.g. exotic fruit) or in very short supply on the Community organic market. Part C of Annex VI to Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91 lists the
Products with an organic content of 70% to 95% may bear indications referring to organic production methods only in the list of ingredients, but not in the sales description. Indications referring to organic production
methods in the list of ingredients may not be more prominent than other indications in the list of ingredients. The percentage of ingredients of organic origin must be specified.
Where the ingredients of organic origin represent less than 70% of the content of a product, the labelling and advertising may not bear any reference to organic production methods.
Community rules do, however, provide a possibility for referring to the conversion period. Indications referring to conversion to organic production methods may be used: crop products that comply with the provisions of Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91, and for which the
operator is subject to inspection measures, may bear the words “product under conversion to organic farming”, on condition that a conversion period of at least twelve months has been complied with before the harvest. The indications should not be such as to mislead the consumer.
This faculty of referring to the conversion period is intended to help producers changing over to organic production in a period when the investment cost is usually heavy, by enabling them to enhance the product image after the first year.
Logo and reference to inspection scheme
Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91, as amended by the Council in 1995, opened the way for the Commission to establish a special logo for organic production and to prescribe wording explicitly indicating that products are covered by the inspection scheme.
In March 2000, Commission Regulation (EC) No 331/2000 established the logo, whose purpose is enhancement of the credibility of organic products in the eyes of consumers and better identification of such
products on the market.
The logo is not compulsory. Producers use it on a voluntary basis, when their products fulfil the required conditions.
The logo and indication of inspection may be used only for certain products covered by Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91, which meet all the following conditions:
· at least 95% of the ingredients have been produced by organic methods;
· the products have been subject to the inspection arrangements laid down in the Regulation throughout the production and preparation process; this means that the operators involved in the agricultural production, processing, packaging and labelling of the product
must all be subject to the inspection scheme;
· the products are sold directly by the producer or preparer in sealed packaging, or placed on the market as pre-packaged foodstuffs;
· the products show on the labelling the name and/or business name of the producer, preparer or vendor, together with the name or code number of the inspection authority or body.
Regulation (EC) No 331/2000 also lays down conditions for the presentation and use of the Community logo. The logo must match the models in the annex to the Regulation. Moreover, the Community logo and the wording there-upon must be used in accordance with the technical reproduction rules in the graphic manual.
In view of the importance of maintaining the credibility of the organic farming sector, the Regulation introduces a number of rules on the inspection of operators.
Prior notification of activity to the competent national authority (Article 8)
Any operator who produces, prepares or imports from a third country goods produced in accordance with organic methods must notify this activity to the competent authority of the Member State in which the activity is carried out. The notification must, among other things, enable the parcels cultivated by organic methods to be identified, involve an explicit commitment by the operator to comply with the provisions of the Regulation, and include the name of the body responsible for supervising the holding.
Special inspection scheme
The Regulation requires each Member State to set up an inspection system operated by one or more designated inspection authorities and/or by approved private bodies. For the application of a system operated by private bodies, Member States must also designate an authority responsible for the approval and supervision of such bodies. That authority is required, among other things, to supervise the inspection bodies, to ensure that they are able to carry out the required inspections, guaranteeing that they are effective and objective. Each Member State must ensure, either through the authority or through the arrangements for accreditation, that the private bodies meet the requirements of standard EN 45011 (or ISO 65). This standard, drawn up by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), sets out the requirements to be met by certification bodies to ensure sound and credible certification.
All operators who, as part of a business activity, produce, prepare or import agricultural products or food-stuffs obtained by organic production methods are subject to a special inspection scheme established by the
Member States. These schemes are governed by detailed minimum requirements set out in particular in Annex III to Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91.
· Inspection measures applicable to farmers
The inspection scheme requires the producer and the inspection body to draw up a full description of the unit. In particular, this description must make it possible to identify production and storage premises, harvesting
areas, planned manure spreading and processing and/or packaging premises (if any). The measures to be taken to ensure compliance with Community regulations must also be described. Once this report has been drawn up, the producer must notify the inspection body each year
of its schedule of production of crop products, giving a breakdown by parcel.
Detailed accounts must be kept to ensure optimum traceability. Producers of organic products of animal origin must also keep records providing a full description of the herd or flock management system, with
details of livestock, by species, entering and leaving the holding, of any animals lost, of feed, and of veterinary treatment.
If organic and conventional production take place on the same holding, the producer must ensure that organic parcels and storage premises are kept clearly separate from conventional areas. Where crops or animals are raised organically, plants of the same variety, or animals of the same breed, may not also be raised conventionally on the same holding. The body inspects the entire holding, including the premises and parcels used for conventional production.
The inspection body must inspect each holding at least once a year, and may also visit farms without prior warning. Inspectors must check on compliance with the rules, and may take samples so as to test for the presence of unauthorised products.
· Preparation of foodstuffs from organic products
The same principles of identification, monitoring and record-keeping apply to processing and packaging units. The principle of separate premises for processing, storage and packaging also applies to operators dealing with both organic and conventional ingredients.
· Importers of organic products
The rules for inspection of importers are also intended to supervise the movements of each individual consignment of products imported from third countries, in particular by requiring full identification of products
(quantity, type, origin). The inspection body must be provided with information on the transport and consignees of products.
· Sanctions for failure to comply with Community rules
When an inspection body finds an irregularity, the indications are removed from the lots concerned, which means that the products may not be described for sale as “organic”. Stricter penalties may be imposed where a manifest infringement or an infringement with prolonged effects is found; in that case, the operator may be prohibited from producing or marketing organic products for a period to be determined by the inspection body. Operators subject to the inspection scheme accept
the possibility of such sanctions when signing the contract with the inspection body. The competent authority in each Member State must keep itself informed of all irregularities and infringements reported by private inspection bodies.
· Rules governing transport
Agricultural products being sold as organic may be transported only in packaging or containers closed in a manner which would prevent substitution of the content.
Other measures necessary to prevent fraudulent use of indications referring to organic production methods
Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91 provides that Member States must take whatever measures and action are required to prevent fraudulent use of the indications referring to organic production methods. This provision
means that, where necessary, the authorities in each Member State must take action in addition to the inspections carried out under the special scheme.
Organic products from third countries may be marketed as such only after a procedure to ascertain the equivalence of the rules on organic agriculture applied in the third country. Thus the rules applied in the third country must provide guarantees equivalent to those provided by Community rules. The purpose of this requirement is to guarantee the credibility of the organic products market, and ensure fair competition between Community and third country producers. Equivalence is ascertained only where the products concerned are described for marketing as “organic”.
In order to ascertain equivalence, the Commission makes a thorough investigation into the arrangements in the country concerned, examining not only the requirements imposed on production but also the measures
applied to ensure effective control. Where rules are found to be equivalent, the third country is entered on the list of authorised countries, which means that organic products from that country can be imported and move freely within the European Union. The list at present
comprises Argentina, Australia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel and Switzerland.
Imported consignments must be covered by an inspection certificate issued by the competent authority or body in the third country, attesting that the consignment has been produced in accordance with the production and inspection rules recognised as equivalent.
A parallel scheme has been introduced, valid until 2005, to enable Member States to issue import authorisations for consignments from third countries not included in the Community list drawn up by the Commission. It is up to the importer to prove that the imported products
were obtained according to production rules equivalent to those laid down in Community legislation and were subject to inspection measures of equivalent effectiveness to the inspection measures imposed on Community products. The Member State notifies the Commission
and the other Member States of the third countries and products for which it has issued an authorisation. This scheme is particularly important for specific categories of goods inspected at local or regional level, from countries where organic production is not covered by national legislation or rules covering all organic products (e.g. coffee or tea plantations in a particular country).
Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2001
Authors: Gwénaëlle Le Guillou and Alberik Scharpé
The Commission is not bound by the text of this publication.
© European Communities, 2000
Reproduction authorised provided the source is acknowledged