Cornucopia’s Take: Beginning in 2021, the European Union will no longer accept produce labeled “organic” that has been produced hydroponically, including so-called “container production.” European hydroponic producers who use approved organic inputs will still be able to export their produce to the U.S., although their produce will not be eligible for organic status in their own country. It remains to be seen whether this will increase hydroponic exports from the EU to the U.S. Cornucopia continues to insist that soil-less hydroponic production of vegetables and fruits should not be eligible for sale in the U.S. as organic.

New EU organic law bans hydroponic organic imports
Sustainable Food News

Revised organic production and labeling rules to go into effect in 2021

Hydroponic production is not organic in the EU
Image source: AgriLife Today

Members of the European Parliament on Thursday voted to approve new regulations for the certification and labeling of organic food.

The EP members voted 466 to 124, with 50 abstentions, to adopt the new EU law on organic production and labeling, as agreed by Parliament’s negotiators and EU ministers in June.

Once the new regulations are formally approved by the Council of EU ministers, the revised law on organic production and labeling of organic products would go into effect in January 2021.

The EU’s annual retail sales of organics reached €30.7 billion in 2016 with an annual growth rate of 12 percent.

For exporters of organic products to the EU, the new law means producers from non-EU countries who want to sell their products in the EU need to comply with the same rules as producers in the EU.

Current “equivalence” rules, requiring non-EU countries to comply with similar but not identical standards, will be phased out by 2026. However, equivalent production methods in third countries could be recognized under trade agreements.

The European Commission will also be allowed to authorize the use of products and substances in third countries and in the EU’s outermost regions, which would not comply with EU standards anymore, for organic production.

The authorization, which would effectively allow the final imported product to bear the organic label, would be issued for a renewable period of two years and “could be justified by differences in the ecological balance in plant or animal production or by specific climatic conditions.”

In addition, the new EU organic law “lays down the principle of soil-bound plant production, also in greenhouses,” the EP said in a press release

“As organic plant production is based on nourishing the plants primarily through the soil ecosystem, plants should be produced on and in living soil in connection with the subsoil and bedrock,” the new regulation states. “Hydroponic production, which is a method of growing plants which do not naturally grow in water with their roots in a nutrient solution only or in an inert medium to which a nutrient solution is added, is prohibited.”

That prohibition also extends to “growing plants in containers, bags or beds where the roots are not in contact with the living soil.”

While the EU prohibits organic certification of hydroponic production, the new law does provide an exemption for crops certified as organic and grown hydroponically in demarcated beds (approximately 45 acres) in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, until 2031.

Other provisions of the new regulations include:

  • Strict, risk-based inspections will be carried out on-site and for all operators along the supply chain, at least annually or once every two years if no fraud has been found in the last three years.
  • Animal welfare rules have also been improved as tail-docking and teeth cutting for pigs are banned. Beak trimming is still allowed for poultry but only in the first three days of life. Tail-docking for sheep and dehorning are allowed only exceptionally and on a case-by-case basis. Additional provisions improving housing conditions for pigs have also been added.
  • The new law also sets out new rules on the use of seeds as part of an effort to increase the supply of organic seeds and animals to meet the needs of organic farmers. Exemptions allowing the use of conventional seeds and animals in organic production should expire in 2035. “In future, providers will be able to offer more locally adapted traditional varieties, that are often more robust and disease-resistant,” the EP said. “Until now, unlike in the USA, these varieties could not be used or only sold under difficult conditions in Europe.”

Read the approved text of the new EU organic law here.

IFOAM EU, representing more than 190 organic food companies and farm groups in the EU-28, said several issues “still need to be clarified to remove obstacles for the future practical implementation of the new organic regulation.”

“The impressive growth of organics is already a success story, but organic production has the potential to trigger a deeper transformation of European food and farming and to bring many more benefits to society, producers and the environment,” said Eduardo Cuoco, IFOAM EU Director. “The development of organic food and farming should now be prioritized in the EU Multiannual Financial Framework.”

Story courtesy of the influential daily industry newsletter, Sustainable Food News.  For subscription information:

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