Chris Atkinson Soil Association

Chris Atkinson

At the moment UK farmers and food companies need to continue to meet EU organic regulations. The longer term is less certain. Any freedom to change organic rules and how UK organic goods can continue to be exported and imported will depend on the nature of any relationship between the UK and the EU.

It might be necessary for Westminster to negotiate individual trade agreements with the EU and other countries and trading blocks. We may also wish to obtain other accreditation to facilitate sales to countries outside of the EU where we have previously been covered by EU trade deals e.g. with the United States. Soil Association Certification staff will be contacting all licensees with export interests.

The Scottish government has made it clear that they will be pursuing a strategy to remain in the EU, in line with their population’s wishes as expressed at the referendum. Soil Association Scotland is keeping abreast of developments and ensuring that we help to shape the future of organic food and farming in Scotland.

Defra staff members have been told to carry on with business as usual and this extends to Countryside Stewardship applications this year, although Natural England have not confirmed that agreements starting this year would be honoured once we exit the EU. This is because the scheme is currently match funded by the EU.

What does this mean for organic standards?

We are very active members of IFOAM EU and are continuing our work to influence the development of the new EU organic regulation, by contributing to and leading a number of IFOAM EU working groups. We continue to work with Defra to influence member states, which has been fairly successful so far, so we hope this will continue in the short term at least.

We will continue with our organic standards review as planned, with the food and farming consultation scheduled to launch in October 2016. Part of the review process has involved identifying EU and SA standards, with EU standards clearly shown in all of our new standards documents. This will enable us to respond quickly to any potential future changes to the regulation.

In the longer term, the UK could negotiate its own standalone organic regulation and trade agreements with the EU and other countries such as the USA and China. It would obviously need to meet or exceed the EU organic regulation to support European imports and exports.

What is happening with the revision of the EU organic regulation?

The negotiation of the new regulation is not yet complete. It seems unlikely that the basic text will be agreed before the end of 2016 and this means that work on detailed production rules will need to continue well into 2017. Slovakia is now in the presidency of the EU and has responsibility for drafting a text that member states and the parliament can support. However, negotiations under previous presidencies have been difficult and we think it is unlikely that the result will represent a significant improvement over the current legislation.