September 23, 2020

Organic food exports face outright ban if equivalence is not agreed in Brexit deal, food sector warns

More than 30 organisations representing the organic food and drink sector have written to Chief UK Negotiator, Lord Frost, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, to express their deep concern about the future of trade and certification of organic products between the UK and the EU.

The letter warns of detrimental impacts on the organic market, highlighting that organic food exports from the UK face being excluded from the EU market if mutual agreement between the UK and EU is not achieved by the end of the year. 

Global sales of organic products are rapidly approaching £100bn and the UK is the world’s ninth largest organic market. Organic food and drink sales also boomed during the lockdown earlier this year, with the sector on track to hit the £2.6bn mark by the end of the year, exceeding the £2.5bn originally projected, according to the Soil Association.

Unless organic standards ‘equivalence’ is secured as part of the negotiations, the UK will lose access to EU markets automatically at 11pm on 31st December 2020. It would bring significant practical and financial problems for a dynamic, fast-growing and highly prized part of the British food scene. Manufacturers in Northern Ireland are likely to lose access to some essential sources of organic ingredients or products produced in Great Britain in favour of products from EU member states which will be able to be imported without additional administration, or certification requirements.

Roger Kerr, Chairman, The UK Organic Certifiers Group (UKOCG), said: “The market for organic food is an essential, and growing, part of the UK’s import and export economy and is one of a very few sectors which potentially face overnight exclusion from a vital market if a mutual recognition agreement between the UK and EU is not achieved before the 31st December deadline.

“By co-signing this letter as a sector, we are urging the UK Government to recognise what is at jeopardy here as we enter a new regime with the EU. Securing mutual agreement between the UK and the EU in relation to organic certification must be a priority for the negotiators.”

Omsco’s Managing Director, Richard Hampton, said: “Growth in organic food and drink sales has accelerated globally during the Coronavirus pandemic. The UK is very well placed to take advantage of these trade opportunities given the strength of the UK organic production sector and the UK’s reputation for high quality and product safety. At Omsco, we are seeing this trend first hand, with European customers seeking increased volumes for next year for our quality organic dairy products sourced from our UK organic dairy farmer owners.

“Access to the European market is vital not just because of the growth opportunities that it affords, but also because our spread of markets and products allows us to deliver the flexibility and availability to our UK customers and consumers. The loss of these markets will damage efficiencies, reduce flexibility and increase costs at a precarious economic time.

“We are just one of many successful UK organic food businesses in this position and we need an urgent resolution to the situation.”