Organic farmers could find themselves with stockpiles of milk, vegetables and meat they can’t sell to the EU if the UK is heading for a no-deal Brexit.
With the negotiations for a free trade deal between the UK and EU in disarray, 30 organic trade bodies have written to the UK’s negotiators urging them to strike a separate deal with Brussels to allow trade in organic goods to continue even if there is no agreement.
Currently UK and EU farmers adhere to the same rules on organic food and drink production. But on 31 December this formal arrangement will come to an end.
Written into the draft free trade agreement is a deal that would allow the ‘organic’ label to continue to mean the same thing in the EU and the UK.
But if talks break down before the deal is finalised, organic farmers say they will left high and dry.
They want the UK to secure a so-called ‘equivalence’ agreement with the EU that would safeguard the organic labelling regime even in the event of no deal.
“Unless equivalence is secured as part of the negotiations, it would bring significant practical and financial problems for a dynamic, fast-growing and highly prized part of the British food scene,” they warned in a letter to the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, earlier this week.
The letter is signed by bodies including Organic Trade Board, the Soil Association, the National Farmers Union, and the Food and Drink Federation.
The UK exports around £225m of organic produce to the EU each year, including organic milk, beef, lamb, vegetables and cereals. Roger Kerr, chairman of the UK Organic Certifiers Group, warned failure to agree equivalency would leave organic farmers facing a financial headache.
“If you have an organic product that is recognised as organic in the UK, but not recognised as organic in the EU, then you might have to have two sets of labels,” he told i. “That increases costs, it increases complexity, and you’re losing margin.”
The bodies warn the situation poses as “grave threat” to farmers across the country.
A Government spokesperson said: “We fully recognise the concerns of our hard-working organic food producers and processors, which is why we have proposed an organics equivalence agreement to the EU – allowing our organic sector to flourish.
“We are supporting the UK organic control bodies with their applications for equivalence, and are pushing for EU agreement to help minimise any potential disruption to trade.”