Organic Licensing 'too expensive and too complex' for small producers

Organic licenses are ‘too expensive and too complex’ for small producers says leading food law firm, Roythornes.

Licenses in the UK are provided by organic Control Bodies (CB) which are monitored be the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and they are required for growing, processing, importing and even labelling something as organic in the UK.

Organic standards are governed by EU law, and getting a license requires an initial registration with a CB, a string of inspections and a two year wait or ‘conversion’.

This process has been described as costly, long-winded and over complicated by solicitors at Roythornes, who specialise in food and drink law.

Peter Bennett, head of the firm’s food team said “The licensing process is too expensive and too complex.

“The initial requirement involves financial investment, a lot of paperwork and time to do get through it, most of which is unavailable to new and smaller growers or producers.

“The Soil Association, for example, sets out their required standards in a 200 page document, and these usually exceed the requirements set out by the European Union.

“We understand that controlling these licenses is very important, but some help needs to be provided for start-ups who simply want to provide organic produce, and don’t have any legal experience or the finances to get through such a time consuming course.”

Registration fees are decided by control bodies and applying for the license requires the producer to propose how they will manage soil fertility & manure and describe how they plan to source, store and handle waste.

Following registration, those wanting the license are inspected by the control body which may award registration or recommend actions to be taken in order to attain registration. 

However it takes two years to get a full license, a process known as conversion, during this time producers are subject to continuous ad-hoc inspections and must meet any recommendations made.

During the first 12 months of the conversion period, crops must be sold as non-organic, and in the following year of conversion products can be sold as those ‘produced under conversion to organic farming’.

For more information about our services visit our food sector page.

If you would like to find out more, speak to Peter Bennett, head of our food team on 01775 842567