Proposals to change EU rules on organic farming must be overhauled or the UK sector will be significantly damaged, the Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) group has warned.
The certification group said European Parliament plans to overhaul the regulation system may force producers to quit, affecting supplies and reducing consumer choice.
The proposals, which are being discussed by the Parliament and the European Council before an expected implementation in 2017, include rules that would require a farmer’s entire holding to be organic.
Under the rule, farmers could be prevented from having organic and conventional operations on the same farm, affecting producers who are converting to organic over several years or forcing those who run mixed farms out of organic production entirely.
Roger Kerr, OF&G chief executive, said it was critical organic regulations were kept up-to-date, but feared the new rules in their current form would damage the sector at a time when demand was growing.
“As the sector continues to develop, the regulations need to be enhanced, but we don’t want to disadvantage organic producers and processors in the process,” he added.
“As they stand, these changes will cost jobs and livelihoods, which no one who cares about organics wants to see.”
OF&G said proposed rules around the need for all retailers who sell organic produce to become certified – rather than just those who handle unpacked organic goods, as is currently the case – were also concerning.
“By the time organic food hits the shelf it will have already gone through a rigorous certification process, so forcing all retailers to go through a further process is unnecessary, adds cost and adds nothing to the integrity of the product,” said Mr Kerr.
“Our concern is that the cost of certification may force some retailers to withdraw from the sector, removing important outlets for individual farms and food processors and reducing consumer choice.”
Waitrose, which has about 25% of the UK’s organic market, said it understood the concerns of organic producers over the regulations.
A spokesman added: “If we are going to meet predicted growth in consumer demand for organic in the UK, we need to see strategies that help us build volumes while maintaining integrity and consumer confidence.”
Ministers from across Europe have also expressed their concerns over the proposals, with Austria’s agriculture minister, Andrä Rupprechter, describing them as “nonsensical”
In a farm council meeting, Mr Rupprechter warned that farmers in Austria – where 20% of land is farmed organically – and the rest of Europe would be forced out of production if the rules were accepted.