Commission gives six months to seek agreement on organic farming law
Following initial indications that the proposed new regulation on organic farming would be scrapped from the European Commission’s work programme for 2015, the final programme, adopted on Tuesday 16 December by the College of Commissioners, shows that the EU institutions now have six months to seek an agreement on the law or else alternative action will be taken.
The programme, which also contains a list of several new initiatives for 2015 and makes additional changes to previous Commission initiatives, comes only four days after the Italian Presidency of the Council published its progress report on the on-going review of the Commission organic proposal. The Council report which outlines several areas of concern aims, among other things, to maintain use of non-organic animals on organic farms and to remove proposed livestock rules, which they say should be dealt with under implementing acts.
The report shows that efforts to improve animal welfare in organic farming are facing severe resistance from member states that insist on keeping “flexibility” in organic farming in all its forms to maintain competitiveness. Unfortunately such flexibility would come at the expense of key organic principles, including animal welfare.
The Council report and the expedited six month review process alluded to in the Commission’s work programme now put more pressure on the EU institutions, including the European Parliament, to address the most serious shortcomings in current and proposed organic farming legislation. Indeed, the Commission’s original decision to revise the existing organic regulation does not come without reason and is meant to support a principle-based approach to organic farming and maintain consumer confidence in and the long term sustainability of organic farming in the EU.
Summarising the need for action to ensure appropriate integration of animal welfare improvements in organic farming, Director of Eurogroup for Animals, Reineke Hameleers said, “Eurogroup wants to ensure that several exceptions to animal welfare rules that are possible in the current EU regulation on organic farming, such as the use of inappropriate breeds, the tethering of livestock, and unnecessary castration will be removed. Ill-defined provisions for transport and slaughter, among other practices, must be developed and improved. Detailed rules for some livestock species, such as rabbits, are currently missing, and existing rules for several species, including calves and sows, are inadequate.”
This new development and especially the Council report could now threaten needed improvements. If the other institutions cave into unjustified demands that prevent needed animal welfare improvements, then this may signal a lost opportunity for strengthening the public’s confidence in organic farming which still varies significantly between member states. Action is now needed to improve the clarity, development and enforcement of higher animal welfare standards in organic legislation.
Reineke continued, “We call on all actors to counter the threat of continued stagnation and neglect of animal welfare in all its forms, be it through organic farming or other legislation that impacts animals. The EU institutions must use this opportunity to improve public confidence in organic farming, which should include the universal attainment of higher standards in organic animal farming across the EU.“
In this process the European Parliament, as the leading institution on several animal welfare matters, will be instrumental in making sure than animal welfare is more fully integrated into organic farmining.