Amongst so many other issues, one of particular concern to our stakeholders is the future for organic after Brexit. Organic food and growing is currently regulated by the EU organic frameworks, which set standards and regulations for all EU member states. But what will happen after Brexit?
It seems likely that along with virtually all other EU regulation, initially the EU framework will be ‘repatriated’ into UK law in March 2019, but after that, it seems an open question.
The Soil Association’s certification standards for organic growing already set high standards for organic farmers, and make a strong argument for these to be maintained for UK organic agriculture. But in the USA, the Trump Administration has recently relaxed organic regulation to allow American organic growers to become more competitive. By allowing bioponic growing for instance. This would enable them, to export more ‘organic’ produce to overseas markets, including the UK. If the UK Government moves ahead with its ambition for bilateral trade deals – for example between the UK and the USA – then there will need to be an equivalence in organic standards so the two countries can compete on a level playing field. It seems unlikely that the Trump Administration would agree to a significant tightening of organic regulations, so what would the UK do? Dumb down to the revised US standards? There would an outcry if it tried.
The next issue will be one of possible divergence between EU and UK organic regulations. If and when the EU amends or changes its framework, standards and regulations from time to time, the UK will be under no obligation to follow such amendments. So as time marches on, there is likely to be an increasing divergence between the UK and the EU. Assuming the EU is likely to demand that any organic food or produce exported to the EU must be at the EU standard to claim ‘organic’ status, how will this be policed or monitored? Will organic exporters to the EU will be obliged to maintain - EU organic standards, whatever the situation is in the UK?
Garden Organic, along with a range of other organic organisations and representative bodies, is doing its best to advise DEFRA, the lead UK government department, and the devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on future options. Our advice is that the UK needs a clear, simple and understandable framework, preferably with a widely understood organic logo (similar to the Red Tractor logo), to give growers and consumers an easily recognisable symbol for organic produce – be it compost, seeds or food. But consultations are complex, not least because of input from the Brexit departments (DFEEU and the Cabinet Office) and by the Treasury. We will continue to keep members informed of any progress.