UK organic farmers could struggle to source sufficient volumes of animal feed if proposed changes to EU organic rules go through as they stand.
Last week, the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee voted on amendments to the EU regulations, as the next step in a long process involving the big EU institutions.
According to NFU Deputy President Minette Batters, while some of the amendments voted through could provide greater flexibility to the organic sector, others could leave organic farmers facing ‘substantial challenges in the future’.
The biggest concern is a proposal requiring organic animal to be produced on-farm or sourced from within 150km (93 miles).
Mrs Batters said this posed ‘a big threat to all our organic livestock producers and could realistically threaten the viability of their businesses’.
“The change to organic feed sourcing is unworkable in the UK as there’s already a major shortage and people simply wouldn’t be able to get hold of it,” she said.
But she said the NFU was ‘pleased’ MEPs had responded to its concerns and removed a clause requiring wholesale conversion of part-organic systems to a full organic operation within five years.
"This would have been a backward step, seriously risking the viability of organic farming in the UK," she said.
“We also very much welcome the deletion of the condition where organic farmers would have borne the cost for any accidental contamination,” she said.
"We are keen to ensure that changes to EU organic regulations does not disadvantage British organic farmers. We also want to make sure that conventional farmers are not hampered by these changes.”
Chris Atkinson, head of the Soil Association’s standards team pointed out the Agriculture Committee’s vote was its first contribution to a process that it was ’only one party to the final decision’.
He said some of the more ‘alarming’ elements agreed by MEPs, including the 150km feed proposal, were unlikely to end up in the final text, as written.
He said: “The Soil Association supports local and regional sourcing of feeds that can be grown, but the use of a figure like 150km is probably not something we would be able to support."
Amendments approved by the Agriculture Committee last week will now be the subject of inter-institutional negotiations between the European Council, the Parliament and the Commission.