Food Law News - EU - 2007

EP News Item, 29 March 2007

ORGANIC FOOD - Oganic food products sent back to Agriculture Committee

MEPs voted for stricter rules on organic food products by calling for the maximum allowable figure for accidental contamination by GMOs to be reduced to 0.1%. However, they decided not to vote on a final resolution winding up the matter since the European Commission refuses to grant Parliament the right of co-decision on the legislation. The report was therefore sent back to the EP Agriculture Committee for reconsideration.

The House voted by 585 votes to 35, with 38 abstentions, for the regulation to be made subject to the EP-Council co-decision procedure since it covers the production and distribution of processed food in the single market (which comes under co-decision) and not just agricultural produce (which comes under the consultation procedure).

Faced with the Commission's refusal to change the legal basis of the regulation, Parliament decided to give itself more time to convince the Commission by referring the matter back to its Agriculture Committee (an option available under Rule 53 of the EP's Rules of Procedure). Under the consultation procedure, the Council cannot adopt its position until Parliament has decided on its own stance through a plenary vote.

Nevertheless, MEPs were keen to send a strong political message by voting today on a number of amendments that significantly strengthen the Commission's proposal in various ways, notably on the question of GMOs.

"No" to contamination by GMOs

The Commission's plan is not to allow any food products to be legally sold as "organic" if they contain GMOs, unless they have been contaminated accidentally and even then only up to the current Community threshold of 0.9% of GMOs allowed for conventional food.

However, by 324 votes to 282, with 50 abstentions, MEPs today backed an amendment seeking to reduce the threshold to 0.1% in the case of organic products. They also called, by a narrow majority, for the Commission to propose by 1 January 2008 a directive providing for precautionary measures to prevent GMO contamination throughout the food chain, with clear rules on liability and application of the "polluter-pays" principle.

Parliament also voted to spell out more clearly the fact that there is a ban on "GMOs and products produced from or with GMOs" in organic farming, and that there are no exceptions, even for veterinary medicinal products. MEPs also say that only organically produced seed and propagating material which has been proved to be GMO-free should be used and that operators should "take all appropriate steps to avoid any contamination with GMOs" and "supply evidence that no contamination has taken place".

Stricter standards and limited derogations

Members adopted amendments laying down stricter rules for the use of plant-health products and veterinary treatments as well as national derogations thereto. They also want Member States to be allowed to apply stricter national rules if they wish.

Logos and labelling particulars

Parliament believes the European logo (to be used for food where 95% of the ingredients are organic) should be compulsory on such products, not just an option, so that consumers throughout the EU can recognise products which comply with Community standards.

However, MEPs voted to drop the letters "EU" from the term "EU-ORGANIC", which the Commission wanted to make compulsory. They argue that this term may be confusing for consumers, leading them to believe that the product originates in the EU, whereas it may come from a third country. For similar reasons Parliament calls for labels to indicate the country of origin of a product.

Tightening up controls, including those on imports

Parliament stresses that national control bodies should be accredited in line with European standards. In addition, Member States must ensure that their inspection systems enable products to be traced through all stages of production, preparation and distribution, so as to guarantee consumers that organic products have been produced in line with the new rules.

An up-to-date list of control authorities and approved control bodies must be made available to interested parties. Moreover, operators from non-EU countries must be in a position to provide importers or national authorities with documentary evidence issued by a competent Community control body.

Rules must apply to catering industry too

MEPs argue that the regulation should cover the catering industry (take-aways, canteens, restaurants and similar service providers). And, in addition to the production, processing, packaging and labelling of products, the new rules should cover "conditioning", manufacture and storage.

However, Parliament backed a number of amendments seeking to exclude fisheries products from the regulation, saying that special legislation should be introduced for products from organic fish farms.

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