Imported organic products, electronic traceability starts

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On imported organic products, electronic traceability is finally operational. The system is based on the TRACES – TRAde Control and Expert System (1) platform already used for years in food safety. The same one that every day assures consumers of the hygiene and goodness of the products they find on their tables.

The implementation of this system comes somewhat later than what European organic operators have been calling for and the European Parliament’s 2011 recommendation. But the Commission saw fit to allow member states to adapt their IT systems.

A plus that doesn’t show up on the label

Consumers will not be directly aware of this important innovation because the certificate will not carry any additional information on organic product labels. However, the assurance that imported substandard organic products will be more easily detected and withdrawn from marketing channels or the market will be greatly increased.

The new electronic certification system will cover import companies, certification bodies, customs agencies and companies to which imported products are delivered directly. All these entities will have to register with the European TRACES system. To notify the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, which will issue the final authorization for the use of the system.

Imported organic products: +51%.

According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (SINAB data), there were 310 importing companies operating in the organic sector in Italy in 2015. Imports of organic products, which again in the same year had increased over 2014 by as much as 51 percent. In particular, the import of cereals (up 67 percent), edible oils (up 217 percent) and industrial crops (up 56 percent) had increased. In contrast, vegetables are down (-5 percent).

In general, 2015 saw significant increases in products imported from Non-EU countries (40 percent of the total volume imported in 2015) with Tunisia playing a particularly significant role in olive oil (+247 percent). Turkey then stands out for durum wheat (up 82 percent in 2015). China for legumes (beans and lentils; +63 percent) and soybeans (both soybeans and soybean cake, +63 percent overall). India, Pakistan and Thailand also export almost all organic rice to Italy.

Formal equivalence

It is worth mentioning that import is regulated by specific agreements between the EU and these countries, according to the principle of equivalence of control and production systems. In practice, the EU recognizes equivalent to its control and production system, different systems to those applied in Europe. In this way, products can be certified organic like those produced in the EU. Obviously this is an artifice to ensure the worldwide free movement of goods.

Precisely because of this all European agricultural organizations, which are well aware of the differences between the production methods of India or Tunisia and those used in Europe, have called for this principle of equivalence to be eliminated and for the principle of conformity to be applied, i.e., control and production methods equal to those applied in the EU.

For these reasons, the electronic certification system is an important step forward for organic farms and Italian consumers. Waiting for the compliance principle to be enforced with the new organic farming regulation being discussed in the Trilogue these months.

Luigi Tozzi

(1) The European Commission’s electronic certification system has been operational since April 19, 2017. Derived from the entry into force of Reg. 1842/2016, amending Reg. 1235/2008 on imports of organic products from third countries.

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