With the days becoming chillier and the evenings starting to draw in, it is clear that Autumn is underway and now is the perfect time for people to introduce porridge back into their diet ahead of the winter months. Fittingly, World Porridge Day is coming up this month on 10 October.

World Porridge Day has taken place annually since 2009 and was introduced in order to raise money to support Mary’s Meals in their efforts to support malnourished children living in poverty in developing countries. Over the years, the celebration has expanded internationally, with countries worldwide participating.

With porridge taking centre stage this month, we take this opportunity to consider legislation affecting porridge’s key ingredient – oats.

An update on the EU Organic Regulation – Regulation (EU) 2018/848 on Organic Production and Labelling of Organic Products (the “EU Organic Regulation”)

Last summer we published a piece regarding the EU Organic Regulation, which, at the time, was planned to come into force on 1 January 2021.

What’s changed?

  1. The European Commission has announced that the date on which the Regulation will come into force has been postponed until January 2022. However, this decision is not yet final and awaits approval by the European Council and Parliament (although is highly likely to be approved).
  2. In the meantime, the European Commission has made a concerted effort to support the organic sector by initiating a public consultation in relation to the EU Organic Plan. The consultation opened on 4 September 2020 and remains open to opinions until 27 November 2020.

The reason for the postponement of the EU Organic Regulation is to simplify the adjustment process for stakeholders and allow them additional time to ensure they are adequately prepared for the EU Organic Regulation coming into force. 

Norbet Lins, Chair of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, has commented that he is content with the postponement of the EU Organic Regulation and the additional time that it gives member states and operators to transition to this new system of organic production smoothly. He further commented, “rushing through the approval of the secondary legislation when farmers are preoccupied with tackling the effects of COVID-19 would do more harm than good.”

Mutual recognition

Perhaps a more pressing issue for stakeholders in the organic industry, including those involved in the production or distribution of organic oats, is the impending possibility of organic exports being prohibited, should mutual recognition not be agreed with the European Union pre- 31 December 2020. With UK exports of organic produce amounting to approximately £225 million per year, this is likely to be highly damaging to the sector.

Over 30 businesses in the sector have signed a letter addressed to Lord Frost and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, articulating their concerns regarding this. Until (or unless) mutual recognition occurs, it will be unlawful for UK businesses to export their goods to the EU after 31 December 2020. Organisations that have signed the letter include the Food and Drink Federation, NFU and the Organic Trade Board.

The Chairman of the UK Organic Certifier’s Group, Roger Kerr, has made the following statement:

“The market for organic food is an essential and growing part of the UK’s import and export economy and is one of very few sectors which potentially face overnight exclusion from a vital market if a mutual recognition agreement between the UK and EU is not achieved before the 31 December deadline.”

Should mutual recognition not be achieved, in order to be permitted to legally export their goods, UK businesses will be required to seek certification in both the UK and the EU. Certification is particularly time consuming and would lead to considerable additional bureaucracy for businesses. If businesses fail to apply for certification, they will require to alter their packaging to remove any mention of the produce being ‘organic’, which will also be costly and time consuming.

An Equivalence Agreement would be a method of ensuring mutual recognition. Since the UK’s current Organic Regulation is in line with the EU equivalent, arranging an Equivalence Agreement should not be overly complicated.

However, if your business is likely to be adversely affected, you should start to consider contingency planning, in the event of an Equivalence Agreement not being in place pre-31st December 2020. Depending on your business’ exact circumstances, this may involve the following:

  • Considering how your business might arrange for the removal of references to produce being organic on packaging
  • Making enquiries as to whether securing EU certification might be worthwhile or necessary, in spite of the administrative and cost burden

It is hoped that an Equivalence Agreement is on the horizon and might be agreed before the end of the year. However, in the event that such equivalence is not agreed, your business should take steps now to consider its contingency plan.

How can we help?

If you have any questions on how on any of the topics raised in this article may affect your business, please contact a member of our specialist Food & Drink team who will be happy to assist.