CAMBRIDGE, England — In March, the European Commission announced plans to reform its regulations on organic production and certification. For organic livestock farmers, this will include a provision to make animal feed 100 percent organic.
The commission’s change will give farmers better access to organic certification and build consumer confidence, which has been shaken by loose regulations. For instance, in some cases it has been legal for farmers to farm both organic and conventional products on the same site, which means that organic consumers may be indirectly funding nonorganic products. This creates confusion in the organic marketplace, which can lead to mistrust and damage the integrity of the organic brand.
The commission says the reforms will take consumer concerns into account, standardize production rules throughout the European Union and remove administrative and legislative obstacles that prevent farmers from certifying their farms as organic.
The organic animal feed provision is one of the most controversial rules. Under the current regulations, organic animal feed can be up to 5 percent nonorganic. This is because monogastric animals such as pigs and poultry require a specific balance of proteins and amino acids for optimum growth. The specific balance is easier to achieve through chemical supplements, which constitute the 5 percent nonorganic portion in question.
Organic proteins would come from crops like soy and peas. But critics wonder if such sources are cost-effective and if they meet the animals’ nutritional needs. The website of the agricultural research project Improved Contribution of Local Feed to Support 100% Organic Feed Supply to Pigs and Poultry explains that farmers and researchers have “very little experience and limited information on the implications of a shift in feeding strategy to 100% organic for monogastric production, animal health and welfare and sustainability.”
The commission’s reform proposal states that research into protein crops has traditionally been insufficient, which has kept the sector from growing. The commission plans to fund extensive research into organic proteins to learn more about what a fully organic product would look like. “Renewed investment in research into protein crop production could help narrow the gap again, leading to greater yield stability and product quality (protein content, digestibility, etc.), so as to make protein crops more profitable for farmers and the entire supply chain,” the proposal’s authors said.
So far, the commission has drafted an action plan for possible reforms and will work with certifying organizations such as the Soil Association in the U.K., the European Organic Certifiers Council and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements’ EU Group. Once established, the legislation will be enforced in 2017, giving farmers time to adjust.