EU Commission recognises UK organic standards

Prior to 1 January 2021, the end of the Brexit transition period, one of the areas which had left those in the farming industry concerned was in relation to food and drink labelling. In particular, there was much uncertainty as to whether exports from the UK could continue to use EU organic logos on their packaging after the end of the transition period. Earlier this month, the EU Commission recognised UK control bodies, and therefore UK organic certification standards, which allows farmers to continue to use EU organic logos.

Background and EU organic logo

On 31 January 2020, the UK ceased to be a member of the EU. The UK then entered into a transition period which is set to end on 1 January 2021. This transition period provides UK businesses the opportunity to prepare for the impact of Brexit, including its effect on the EU labelling requirements.

One of the anticipated changes following the end of the transition period was the ability for UK farmers to use the EU organic logo. This was set to apply to products being exported to the EU after the transition period – not products currently in the EU market.

The EU organic logo has been in place since 2010 and was created in order to bring a coherent identity to EU organic products. It was envisaged that this would help consumers identify organic products and allow farmers to market their produce across the EU. The aims of the EU organic logo have been met over the years and many farmers across the EU now rely on the EU organic logo to add to the reputation and value of their products. This is the case for many UK farmers, and the fear following the end of the transition period was that the reputation associated with products with an EU organic logo would be lost by UK farmers who would no longer be allowed to use such logo.

Until 2 December 2020, UK farmers were anticipating the loss of the EU organic logo and the benefits associated with it, given that the UK published guidance stating that unless the EU recognised UK control bodies, businesses would be required to change their packaging to remove the EU organic logo.

EU organic logo after the end of the transition period

On 2 December 2020, members of the EU Commission gave approval to recognising the six UK organic certification bodies, including Organic Farmers & Growers and Soil Association Certification. As such, the UK organic certification bodies will continue to remain on the list of recognised control bodies required by law under Article 3 of Regulation EC1235/2008, allowing UK farmers to continue to apply the EU organic low provided they meet the UK organic standards.

While this announcement provides short-term certainty for UK farmers, the EU Commission will only recognise the UK organic certification bodies for a period for 12 months. Once this period finishes, the EU will no longer recognise these bodies and the UK will be in a similar position as it was prior to the EU Commission’s announcement. As such, in respect of EU organic logos, the UK will enter into an additional 12-month transition period whereby UK farmers can continue to use the logo for a period of 12 months, after which UK farmers can no longer use the logo.

After the extended transition period in relation to EU organic logos ends, there are a few different paths which the UK Government ought to consider.

Firstly, the EU may not grant further approval for the recognition of UK organic certified bodies, meaning that UK farmers will lose the ability to use the EU organic logo. Secondly, the UK and EU could reach an agreement whereby the EU continues to recognise UK control bodies, allowing UK farmers to continue to use EU organic logos. Thirdly, the UK looks to meet standards in other jurisdictions, for example the US which would be a new market for British produce.

The issue with these options and the uncertainty that comes with them is that, during the extended transitional phase, and longer term, the UK will look to meet the standards of various jurisdictions including the UK, the EU, and the US. This could create confusion for UK farmers which is furthered by the anticipated changes to the EU organic standards. This includes the new EU Organic Regulation 2018/848 which was due to come into force in January 2021 but has been delayed until January 2022.

As always, there is a risk that with the uncertainty of the long-term future of organic standards, this will have a detrimental effect on UK farmers’ ability to attract business.

How can we help?

If you have any queries in relation to EU labelling changes following the end of the Brexit transition period, please contact a member of our team.

This article was co-written by Haris Saleem, Trainee Solicitor.

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