New rules for organic food products

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Demand amongst consumers for products bearing organic certification is increasing, perhaps as part of the growing trend of simpler, less processed food and out of concern for the environment. At the same time, the process of obtaining organic certification is about to get increasingly more complicated thanks to some changes to EU rules coming into effect at the start of 2021.

Certification rules

Back in 2007 the EU set out the principles and aims of organic production and how organic products must be labelled. That regulation has been added to over the years by a range of implementing acts on production, distribution and marketing. Together these ‘EU Rules’ maintain the integrity of organic products allowing consumers to trust and believe in the organic credentials of a product.

All organic products sold, produced and pre-packed in the EU must display the approved EU organic logo on its packaging. To be able to use the logo, at least 95% of the agricultural ingredients in the food product must be organic. The remaining 5% can come from non-organic sources subject to various additional controls. In order to use the logo, food business operators must obtain certification from an independent body, such as the Soil Association, confirming that the product complies with the EU Rules. Obtaining certification is not easy and it is about to become even more challenging.

From 1 January 2021, flavourings will be regarded as agricultural ingredients and the maximum amount of non-organic flavourings allowed in an organic product will be 5% by weight of the product. Currently, all types of natural flavourings are permitted in organic food products as they are not classed as agricultural ingredients. In addition, general claims such as ‘natural flavouring’ will not be permitted.

Impact of Brexit

Following the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, the existing EU Rules will cease to apply on 1 January 2021 following the end of the transition period unless a new agreement is reached setting out the future relationship. Unless an agreement is reached to continue the mutual recognition of EU and UK organic accreditation organisations, from 1 January 2021, the EU will only recognise an EU approved independent body. This means that a UK exporter to the EU will be unable to use the EU organic logo without an EU approved independent certifier and conversely, the logo will no longer be able to be used in the UK, unless the UK recognises the EU certifying body.

WM comment

The changes to the EU Rules mean that some organic food products may need to be reformulated to continue to be able to use the EU organic logo. The outcome of the UK’s negotiations with the EU will decide whether the new EU rules will apply in the UK from 2021, but decisions on reformulations and re-certification will need to be made much sooner. Ideally, such a process should be happening now.