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Imported Organic Food | Do They Meet EU Organic Standards?

How much of the organic food supply in the EU is imported? Are the high European standards for organic food really met by these imports, and what are the difficulties?

In 2019, about 3.24 million tonnes of organic agri-food products were imported into the EU. This included exotic fruit and vegetables grown in the tropics, animal feed, meat, spices, processed food and non-edibles (e.g. cosmetics, oils and plant extracts) from all around the globe.1

Which imported organic foods are more likely to be organic?

Created by Andrea van den Berg

Only 2% of all imported agricultural food products are certified as organic. However, according to statistics, there are higher organic imports for specific products like organic olive oil, flour, sugar, rice and tropical fruit. For example, of all the imported olive oil in 2019, around 20% was certified as organic, with most of the organic olive oil imports coming from Tunisia.2

With a total production exceeding 300 thousand tonnes, Tunisia is considered the world’s second-largest olive oil producing country after Spain.2

Do imported organic foods meet EU standards?

For imported goods to be marketed and sold as organic, they must conform to standards equivalent to European organic produce. However, depending on the country of origin for each product, all importers have to follow certain procedures and regulations specific to the origin country.

Read the 4 Principles of EU Organic Certification.

Organic ‘Equivalent’ Countries

Firstly, there are so-called organic ‘equivalent’ countries, which include: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Japan, Tunisia, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the USA.5 Inspection and certification of most organic products is carried out by the national authorities in the product’s country of origin. These countries have their respective organic standards and control measures, which have been assessed and classified as equivalent to the organic standards in the EU. Therefore, the imports of organic products from such countries can be labelled as organic for the EU consumer market. The UK remains a special case, as it is no longer a member of the European Union. Therefore, the UK is treated as an equivalent country until the end of 2020 and likely will be treated as such afterwards.3

Organic Inspections For Remaining Countries 

For products originating from any other country, inspection and certification are the responsibility of independent control bodies or authorities. These bodies are appointed by the European Commission, and are tasked to make sure that organic producers under their responsibility meet the organic standards equivalent to those set in the EU.3

Special Guidelines For Specific Countries

Additional controls and guidelines are currently in place for products from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation and China.3 This includes the systematic control of documentation and the collection of samples and analysis of each incoming consignment at the point of entry. These rules are applied to cereals, products of the milling industry, oil seed, miscellaneous grains, seeds and fruit, industrial or medicinal plants, straw and fodder.4

Created by Andrea van den Berg

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