Organic farming

Council of the EU

What is organic farming?

Organic farming is farming which follows practices designed to minimise the human impact on the environment, while ensuring the agricultural system operates as naturally as possible. Such practices may include:  

  • wide crop rotation
  • very strict limits on using chemical synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilisers
  • a prohibition of the use of genetically modified organisms
  • choosing plant and animal species that are resistant to disease and adapted to local conditions
  • raising livestock in free-range, open-air systems and providing them with organic feed

Why is it important?

Organic farming is growing fast, at a rate of 6-9% a year. It generates €20 billion a year and occupies 5.4% of the EU's farmland. It has quadrupled over the last 10 years and is driven by strong consumer demand. The difference between EU production and demand is currently covered by imports, which might limit the environmental benefits linked to organic farming.

In detail

On 28 June 2017 the Maltese presidency and the European Parliament reached a preliminary agreement on an overhaul of the existing EU rules on organic production and labelling of organic products.

The agreed regulation sets more modern and uniform rules across the EU with the aim of encouraging sustainable development. The new rules also:

  • aim to guarantee fair competition for farmers and operators,
  • prevent fraud and unfair practices
  • improve consumer confidence in organic products.

The much anticipated agreement comes after three years of intense negotiations and will have to be formally endorsed by the Council and the Parliament.

In March 2014, the Commission presented a proposal aimed at strengthening the existing legislation on organic farming. The proposal took into account the outcome of a public consultation, which had gathered 45 000 replies. The main objectives of the initial proposal were to:  

  1. Remove obstacles to the sustainable development of organic production in the EU (e.g. by introducing organic certificates for groups of operators to reduce their costs)
  2. Strengthen and harmonise current rules to avoid fraud and unfair practices
  3. Improve consumer confidence in organic products (e.g. by restricting the marketing of products as organic if they contain non-authorised substances above certain levels)

The Commission proposed strengthening the rules on the control systemtrade regimeanimal welfare practices and non-authorised substances.

In the Council

The Council reached a general approach on the organic regulation on 16 June 2015 and the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (COMAGRI) voted on its own report on 13 October 2015. The trilogue negotiations started in November 2015, after the European Parliament had adopted its position at first reading on 5 November 2015.  

On 27 June 2016 the Agriculture and Fisheries Council held a debate on this topic. The Netherlands presidency informed ministers about the state of play in the negotiations with the European Parliament on organic farming. It highlighted the significant progress made on most issues, including sensitive points such as imports, controls, and non-authorised products and substances. 

At the meeting on 14-15 November 2016, the Slovak presidency also briefed the Council on the state of play as regards the proposed regulation on organic production. In particular, the presidency reported on the issues tackled in the previous trilogues and several technical meetings. These included the structure of the regulation, the substance of production rules and the database on livestock and seeds. 

Since January 2017 the Maltese presidency has held trilogues with the European Parliament with the aim of reaching a first reading agreement by mid-2017.