Brexit’s impact on the organic sector: what should we expect?

13 March 2020 · Novedades

Considerations about the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and its implications for organic producers.

By: Lic. María Aniela Galli*

The word Brexit is an abbreviation of the English words Britain (Great Britain) and exit, and is the term used to refer to the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (EU). Since January 31st, 2020, the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Union, and has entered a period of implementation, which will last until December 31st, 2020.

The United Kingdom will remain in the European customs and single market union during the implementation period and all EU regulations will continue to apply. The new rules will take effect from January 1, 2021.

During the implementation period, certain equivalency arrangements may be agreed. Depending on what arrangement are agreed, after 31st December 2020 there may be:

  • implications for trade of organic products between the UK , the EU and other markets. This applies to seeds, plants, livestock, crops and feed. Textiles and cosmetic products are not affected
  • new requirements for import of organic products into the UK from the EU and third countries
  • new labelling requirements for exporting organic to the EU and EU approved third countries

Importing after Brexit

It is not yet clear how imports of organic products will be affected at the end of the implementation period, but until 31st December 2020, what we must expect is:

  • Organic food, feed and drink from the EU, EU approved third countries and EU approved certified in other third countries will continue to be accepted by the UK and will not require checks.
  • For imports from non-EU countries importers should continue to create certificates of inspection via the EC TRACES portal

What is equivalence and why is it important after Brexit?

Equivalence refers to a decision by one state to recognise another state’s legal requirements for regulating a good or service, even though they may not be exactly the same. In practice, this means that a trader need only comply with one set of requirements in both states. This usually applies in a very specific area – for example, it is most often used in relation to aspects of financial services regulation.

Equivalence is frequently related to other concepts of regulatory co-operation such as mutual recognition and harmonisation. Mutual recognition involves both sides recognising each other’s standards or regulatory regimes rather than one side making a decision on the other’s standards or regulatory regimes.

The only major example where broad-based mutual recognition has been established is within the EU single market. This is also supported by significant “harmonisation” – a process whereby conflicting rules or standards are replaced by common European ones.

The European Union has recognized or regulatory regimes of non-EU countries as equivalent in several areas. The main EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said that the possibility of mutual recognition may be affected by the decision of the United Kingdom to end the free movement of persons and the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Communities, which enforces the rules of the single market. He has said that the best that the United Kingdom can expect is equivalence decisions, in areas where EU legislation allows. This will allow the United Kingdom to have some privileged rights to access the EU market.

Equivalence decisions are based on an assessment of the results of regulatory regimes, rather than the similarities between different regulatory regimes. Even if the EU is open to agreeing equivalence in some areas, it could become conditional on other concessions from the UK in the trade negotiations such as on fisheries.

Trading and labelling organic food from 1 January 2021

The UK will have its own laws for the production, processing, labelling and trading of organic food and feed from 1 January 2021.

Organic standards will remain similar to the EU’s. Food and feed registered as organic in the EU will continue to be accepted as organic in the UK. The EU will decide whether to continue accepting food and feed registered in the UK as organic.

Certificates and labels

You will still need to be certified by an approved UK organic control body if you grow, process or import organic food for trade within the UK.
Organic food you produce, process, sell or import must be labelled with details of your organic control body.

Displaying logos

You must not use the EU organic logo on any UK organic food or feed from 1 January 2021, unless either:

  • your control body is authorised by the EU to certify UK goods for export to the EU
  • the UK and the EU agree to recognise each other’s standards (called equivalency)


*Member of LETIS’s Development Department