Important Defra update on UK organic standards
We've received an important update from Defra regarding the organic standards in the UK from 1st January 2021 - please see below for a copy of the Defra statement:
"We're writing to clarify standards that will be in place on 1st January 2021.
The current EU organic standards will become retained EU law at the end of the transition period with minor amendments to make them operable. The Northern Ireland Protocol arrangements will only come into effect on 1st January 2021 at the end of the transition period. During the transition period, to move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, you can continue to operate as you do now – there are no immediate changes to the process.
Discussions are underway to consider the best way to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol.
We're seeking powers in the Agriculture Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, which will allow us to make new organics legislation.
We intend to amend organic production rules in ways that help the organics sector to remain competitive, improve the already high environmental and animal welfare standards within organics, and protect consumer confidence.
We also intend to consult on a new domestic organics regime to support domestic needs in this sector.
We'll contact you with more information as planning develops."
What does this mean ?
The current organic standards applied in the UK are European Commission regulations 834/2007 & 889/2008. These have already been translated into UK legislation in preparation for UK exit from the EU, and Defra are indicating that the government intends for these to be the UK organic standards in place on 1st January 2021.
What does this mean for Northern Ireland?
The EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement 1 requires Northern Ireland to remain aligned to a limited set of EU rules for an initial period of 4 years. Within the EU, a new organic regulation (2018/848 2) comes into effect on 1st January 2021, so it's likely that organic operators in Northern Ireland will have to comply with this new regulation from 1st January 2021, but we do not know this for sure. We also do not know how this will affect product sold from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland. We have no further information at this time on how this will be implemented in Northern Ireland – as stated by Defra, "Discussions are underway to consider the best way to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol."
What does this mean for the future of organic standards in the UK?
As stated by Defra, they intend to consult on a new domestic organics regime. Defra have not yet provided any further details on the format or timings of this consultation, but once we have further information, we'll communicate details to all organic businesses we certify.
What does this mean for exports to the EU?
We do not yet know. This depends on what agreement is reached between the EU and UK. We do not know if the EU would accept this for exports, or only accept this for a time limited period, with an agreement to become more closely aligned to EU organic rules in the future.
There is also still a possibility that no deal is reached by the end of the transition period (end of 2020). In the case of ‘no deal,’ then the only way UK organic operators could gain access to the EU market is individual approval of UK certifiers by the EC, and for operators to be certified to 2018/848. Soil Association Certification have submitted an application to the EC for approval as a third country certifier to ensure we have this approval, if necessary. In this scenario, products for sale on the UK market only and not intended to be sold in the EU, or used in products intended to be sold in the EU, could be certified to the UK standards only.
What do you do if you have already started planning/making changes to ensure your products meet the new EU regulation 2018/848?
Unfortunately, we cannot advise what action to take. You may wish to consider if your product, or the ingredients you produce, will be for the export to the EU, or will only be sold in the UK.
We recognise the information note from Defra provides little certainty and reassurance for organic businesses, and we are actively lobbying Defra to firm up their decisions as quickly and sympathetically as possible. We'll continue to update over the coming months.