Organic food

July 2018

In this information statement we will take a look at the current EU rules relating to organic food. We then move on to look at organic food from the customer perspective covering the rules on labelling, concluding with a few notes on where to begin if you are a food business seeking to move into organic food production.

DEFRA statistics (2016) showed that 49% of food consumed in the UK originated from the UK, 30% from the EU with the remainder form Africa (5%); North America (4%); South America (4%); Rest of Europe (2%) and Australasia (1%).1

Within the UK during 2016 the area farmed for organic crops declined by 2.5% versus 2015; poultry and sheep remained the most popular forms of organic livestock production with the total number of organic producers and processors increasing by 5% estimated to be 6,363 in number.2

It is estimated that the total sales of Organic Food in the UK now represent 1.5% of total food sales.3

What is organic food

Organic food must meet the criteria defined  in EU legislation which relate to how the food is produced and /or processed including the labelling for the consumer.4

The legislation is aimed at providing sustainable cultivation systems which produce a variety of high-quality products with greater emphasis on environmental protection and more attention to biodiversity with higher standards of animal protection.

In organic farming, closed cycles using internal resources and inputs are preferred to open cycles based on external resources. If the latter are used, they should be organic materials from other organic farms, natural substances, materials obtained naturally, or mineral fertilisers with low solubility.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are specifically not permitted. EU Regulation on genetically modified food and feed lays down a threshold (0.9%) under which a product's GMO content does not have to be indicated. Products with GMO content below this threshold can be labelled organic.

Labelling of organic food

Food may be labelled "organic" only if at least 95% of their agricultural ingredients meet the necessary standards. In non-organic food, any ingredients which meet organic standards can be listed as organic. To ensure credibility, the code number of the certifying organisation must be provided.

Since 1 July 2010, producers of packaged organic food have been required under EU law to use the EU organic logo. However, this is not a binding requirement for organic foods from non-EU countries. Where the EU organic logo is used, the place where any farmed ingredients were produced must be indicated.

Organic products from non-EU countries can be distributed on the EU market only if produced and inspected under conditions that are identical or equivalent to those applying to EU organic producers. 

The Euro leaf logo is shown below. If used on a product, the EU organic logo indicates that the product is in full conformity with the conditions and regulations for the organic farming sector established by the European Union. For processed products it means that at least 95% of the agricultural ingredients are organic. Next to the new EU organic logo, a code number of the control body is displayed as well as the place where the agricultural raw materials used in the manufacture of the product have been farmed.






GB-ORG-000 - Code number of the Control Body

EU/non-EU Agriculture  - Indication of the place where the agricultural raw materials of which the product is composed have been farmed

Whenever the EU organic logo is used on a product, it must always be accompanied by the code number of the control body and the place where the agricultural raw materials of which the product is composed have been farmed.

What EU Regulation applies to organic food?

The relevant European legislation is the Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 and the Commission Regulation (EC) No 889/2008.

Where the terms referred to in Article 23(1) of Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 are used (e.g.: organic, bio, eco…), giving consumers the understanding that the foodstuff is organic, the EU organic logo is compulsory for the labelling and advertising of organic pre-packaged food products. These foodstuffs must satisfy the requirements set out under or pursuant to Regulation (EC) No 834/2007.

 National and private labels may be used and can be displayed on organic products next to the Euro leaf.

Where next

If you are looking to assess the feasibility of organic food production and/or processing within your own business a helpful starting point is the set of guidelines produced and available from the Europa website 6 7.

It is important to fully understand the organic requirements laid down for your own specific business, consider how feasible these are within current operations and review any investments required to move to an organic food production and/or processing system.

DEFRA provide guidance on where to start when you have decided to move forward and take the next steps.8 You must register with an organic control body if you’re going to produce, prepare, store, import or sell organic products. If you call a food product ‘organic’ it must have been inspected and certified by one of the UK’s 9 certification bodies.

Institute of Food Science & Technology has authorised the publication of the following updated Information Statement on Organic Food , dated July 2018, replacing that of August 2013 written by Jonathan Troth MIFST. 

This updated Information Statement has been prepared by Sarah Howarth CSci FIFST, peer reviewed by professional members of IFST and approved by the IFST Scientific Comittee. 

The Institute takes every possible care in compiling, preparing and issuing the information contained in IFST Information Statements, but can accept no liability whatsoever in connection with them. Nothing in them should be construed as absolving anyone from complying with legal requirements. They are provided for general information and guidance and to express expert professional interpretation and opinion, on important food-related issues.