2017 EU-Taiwan Organic Food Trade Seminar

Taipei, 22 June 
Note: This is an abridged version. To read the full report, please click HERE.

The European Economic and Trade Office (EETO), under the framework of the European Business and Regulatory Cooperation (EBRC) programme, organised the “2017 EU-Taiwan Organic Food Trade Seminar” together with the Council of Agriculture (COA, a cabinet ministry-level agency under the Executive Yuan) and the Agriculture and Food Agency (AFA), under the COA. The full-day seminar brought together government officials from the European Commission, the AFA and European and Taiwanese experts to share information and experience on the following topics: the development and regulations on producing organic food, best practices sharing, and organic food marketing and promotion. The event was attended by an audience of 140, which included regulators, representatives of central and local governments and business representatives from Europe and Taiwan. The event began with opening remarks by the guests of honour, followed by three sessions covering the main topics. In keeping with the theme of organic agriculture, refreshments made from organic ingredients were served during the seminar’s afternoon networking and tea break.


Council of Agriculture (COA), Executive Yuan (EY) 行政院農業委員會
Agriculture and Food Agency (AFA), COA, EY行政院農業委員會農糧署
European Economic and Trade Office (EETO)
European Business and Regulatory Cooperation (EBRC)


China Productivity Center 中國生產力中心

Guests of honour 

Mr HU Jong-I, Chief Secretary, COA 胡忠一 行政院農業委員會主任秘書
Ms Viktoria LÖVENBERG, Deputy Head of Office, EETO


Mr Vitoon Panyakul, Founder and Board Member, Earth Net Foundation/Green Net
Ms Elena PANICHI, Deputy Head of Unit, "Organics" Unit, Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI), European Commission
Mr Manuel ROSSI PRIETO, Policy Officer, "Organics" Unit, DG AGRI, European Commission 
Mr Stéphane ANDRE, Policy Officer, Directorate General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), European Commission
Mr LAI, Mean-young, Section Chief, AFA, COA, EY 賴明陽 行政院農業委員會農糧署科長
Ms Sophie TONEGAWA, International Sales Manager, Leezen Company Limited
Mr HSIEH Meng, General Manager, Goldencrops Corporation 謝孟甫 鈺統食品股份有限公司總經理
Mr Rosario ROMANO, Partner, First in Sicily Agrofood Consortium
Dr HUANG-TZENG Chang-Ju, Professor, Department of Applied Economics and Management & Chairperson, Organic Center, National Ilan University, Taiwan 黃璋如 國立宜蘭大學教授

Opening remarks

In his remarks Mr Hu said that in addition to producing safe and high-quality agricultural products, organic agriculture can also promote ecological diversification and sustainable agricultural development. 

Taiwan has been promoting organic farming for the past ten years. The industry has developed rapidly. The area devoted to organic farming has risen 3.5-fold to ​​7,105 hectares, accounting for 8.4% of total ​​domestic arable land, a proportion that is only slightly lower than that of South Korea’s 9% but well ahead of Japan’s 3% and China’s 4%. As of next month Taiwan’s ratio will overtake that of South Korea and has the potential to achieve an even higher percentage of 10.6%, helped by the government’s support of new agriculture (which is one of the government’s targeted 5+2 future industries) and the leadership of the COA, which has been promoting organic farming.

Government alone cannot solve all problems. NGOs, academics and farmers groups need to work together to achieve organic farming goals. 

In 2016 the EU was Taiwan’s 2nd largest source of food imports and Taiwan’s 8th largest export market for products such as orchids and seeds. 

In the future, the government wishes to negotiate with the EU to sign a bilateral organic equivalence agreement, so that Taiwan's high-quality organic products can be exported to Europe. It also hopes to sign a similar agreement with Japan. 

In her remarks her remarks Ms Lövenberg said that organic is becoming a way of life in the EU and the organic sector has been developing rapidly in recent years. According to Eurostat data, in 2015 the EU-28 had a total area of 11.1 million hectares cultivated as organic, up from 5.0 million hectares in 2002. During the last decade, the area devoted to organic farming in the EU increased by about 500,000 hectares per year although the whole organic area represents only 6.2% of total utilised agricultural land in Europe. The organic area is cultivated by almost 185,000 farms across Europe. Around 306,500 organic operators (producers, processors and importers) were registered in the EU-28 in 2015. The EU market for organic food was valued at €19.7 billion in 2011.

In 2007 the European Council of Agricultural Ministers agreed on a new Council Regulation setting out the principles, aims and overarching rules of organic production and defining how organic products are to be labelled. EU legislation ensures that ‘organic’ means the same for consumers and producers all across the EU. Legislation concerning organic produce is developed with the participation of Member States and the assistance of advisory and technical committees and expert bodies.

There is already significant bilateral trade in food products between the EU and Taiwan, both in terms of trade value and variety of products. In recent years, there has been rising interest on the part of Taiwanese consumers towards European organic agricultural and food products, indicating that this is clearly an area with strong growth potential but also greater responsibility for stakeholders. With such significant bilateral trade, Ms Lövenberg said that it is unavoidable that at certain times irritants occur but that both sides must constantly work together to keep these irritants to the minimum and, through dialogue, eliminate them when they are without justification. 

The aim of the seminar, she said, is to provide a forum for constructive dialogue between experts, to exchange experience and to share best practices on shared problems, create an environment conducive to eliminate existing irritants, trying to bridge gaps by proposing internationally-agreed and scientifically-underpinned solutions, that follow an integrated approach to food trade, that are fully in line with the principle of high level of protection of human health and consumers' interests, and to ensure that trade is not unnecessarily hampered.

Session 1

Topic: Organic agriculture and consumer perspectives
Speaker: Mr Vitoon Panyakul, Founder and Board Member, Earth Net Foundation/Green Net

The speaker introduced himself as an organic activist, not an expert. He has been working for 25 years with many organisations to promote organic agriculture and fair trade including the Thai Organic Trade Association, the Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand Foundation and the Thai Fair Trade Network. 

Green Net was started in 1993. It is a social enterprise that promotes organic agriculture and fair trade. It works with 20 producer groups (incorporating around 1,500 families) in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia, including Lao, and Cambodia. Most of the Green Net’s organic fair trade products (e.g. rice, coconuts) are exported to Europe but there are many products (e.g. organic coffee, cotton, herbal tea, and seafood) are sold exclusively in domestic markets. 

There are many definitions of what constitutes organic, as defined by different national and private-sectors’ organic standards, which leads to much confusion. For example, hydroponic agriculture is considered organic in some places but not others. The most accepted principles of organic are those defined by IFOAM Organic International, i.e. health, ecology, fairness and care.

He highlighted some of the wide-ranging benefits of organic agriculture:

  • Soil conservation: Without topsoil there is no life. We are losing too much topsoil given poor farming practices and environmental destruction. Last year was the international year of soil, which aimed to find ways to preserve and enhance soil quality by increasing organic matter, eliminating chemical fertilisers and improving soil nutrients.
  • Water conservation: Water is also essential to life. Too many fresh water sources are polluted and ground water is being depleted at a rapid rate. Many have predicted that the next world war will be fought over water. To address this, more needs to be done to minimize waste and optimize water uses and eliminate agro-chemicals from water sources.
  • No pesticides or synthetic fertilisers, no artificial food production, tastier and more nutritious food and fewer animal diseases.Agricultural activities are a major contributor to climate change. According to Mr Panyakul, 15% global greenhouse gases (GHG) come from farming and an additional 18% from land use (which is mainly used for farming). Trees and other plants are nature’s carbon sequestrators, which can limit climate change. 
  • Biodiversity loss is continuing at a rapid rate due to human activity in the form of destruction of genetic diversity and habitats and genetic contamination from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic farming, which bans GMOs and encourages genetic diversity, is helping to increase biodiversity.
  • Organic farming improves human health by reducing exposure to pesticides, both to farmers (who often don’t wear protective gear when spraying crops) and consumers from residues in foods as well as hormones, antibiotics and food additives.
  • Organics can also have economic benefits by helping to reduce poverty by giving farmers better net income through lower production costs and higher prices, reduced health care expenditures, improved skills and knowledge and stronger farmer groups or organizations. Organic farming is almost universally supported by aid and other NGOs, some of which work to support small scale farmers and increase their market access. Organic food can also help to increase food security by giving farmers more income and providing more nutritious food to their families and communities. 

Consumers are confused by the multitude of labels and standards for organic food. Mr Panyakul said that unless we address this confusion the market will not expand. He broke down consumer perceptions on organic into the following categories:

  • Total misunderstanding: For example, consumers believe that organic farmers only use animal manures from organic certified livestocks. 
  • Understand but skeptical: These consumers understand but are skeptical of the benefits to health, especially given high prices of organic food.
Understand but over-expectations: For example, consumers expect zero pesticide residues, which is impossible owing to cross-contamination.
  • Trust some, but not others: Some consumers will only trust certain labels or from certain countries.
  • Committed consumers: Those who usually try to buy organic products.
  • Hard-core: These consumers will only buy organic food. Some even grow their own vegetables when they cannot purchase them, which is leading to an expanding urban agriculture movement in Thailand.

Pesticide residues are the most misunderstood area of organic food. There is no way food can be totally free of pesticides given trace elements in the soil long after pesticides are used, in the air and water and accumulated in the environment. Pollution is inevitable even in buffer zones due to drift from neighbouring land. Moreover, given that lab testing has become much more sophisticated, it is now much easier to detect even tiny amounts of residues. 

There are costs associated with lab tests. If you have several crops (multiple kinds of vegetables in each harvest), you will need more samples and more tests, which translate into higher costs, which are difficult to bear for small farmers. And if the costs are passed on to consumers, then the prices of organic products would even more higher. Getting sufficient testing resources is also very difficult for developing countries where there is such laboratory facilities exists in their countroes. 

There is also a lack of international MRLs for all pesticides and crops. Another issue is who should be responsible for residues. It would not be fair to punish organic farmers for residues caused by conventional farmers in neighbouring fields. It would be fairer to enforce a buffer zone in conventional farms. 

He concluded that what should be done to change consumer perceptions is to educate consumers that organic farming is not pesticide-free, but rather an environmentally-friendly way of farming. In addition, clearer and practicable rules about contaminations should be set while lab tests should be used to detect possible fraud, rather than as certification criteria. 

Topic: EU regulation on organic production and labelling
Speaker: Ms Elena PANICHI, Deputy Head of Unit, "Organics" Unit, Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI), European Commission

The land area dedicated to organic farming in the European Union (28 Member States) has been rising steadily from around 5 million hectares in 2002 to 11.1 million in 2015, a growth rate of about 6% per year. In the EU-28, total organic area amounted to an estimated 6.2% of the total land under cultivation in 2015. Along with this growth, the market for organic goods increased from €11 billion 10 years ago to almost €24.3 billion in 2015. 

The speaker went on to highlight milestones of EU legislation on organic farming since 1991, when plant production rules were set up until this year, as the EU is in the process of finalizing an organic trade agreement with Chile. 

Regulation 834 of 2007 set basic legislation for organic farming. Since then specific rules have been set for plants, livestock, food, yeast, aquaculture, labelling, control rules and importation rules. 

The EU defines organic production is an overall system of farm management and food production that combines the best environmental and climate action practices, a high level of biodiversity, the preservation of natural resources, the application of high animal welfare standards and a production method in line with the demand of a growing number of consumers for products produced using natural substances and processes.

The regulation covers all stages of production, preparation and distribution of organic products:
Unprocessed plant products, including seeds and wild plants, live or unprocessed livestock products, 
including apiculture, processed food, including wine, aquaculture products and seaweeds and feed, among others. What is not included are the products of hunting and fishing of wild animals, cosmetics and textiles.

Production rules prohibit the use of GMOs and require the entire agricultural holding to be managed in compliance with the requirements applicable to organic production. However, a holding may be split up into clearly-separated units that include organic and non-organic sections.
To be regarded as organically-farmed animals, different animal species must be involved. To be regarded as organic plants, different varieties that can be easily differentiated must be involved. An additional condition is that the entire agricultural holding or aquaculture operation is managed in compliance with the requirements applicable to organic production. 

For organic plant production, the use of tillage and cultivation practices that maintain or increase soil organic matter is required as is multiannual crop rotation, green manure crops, the application of livestock manure or organic material from organic production. The use of biodynamic preparations is allowed. There is a positive list of organic fertilisers and soil conditioners. The use of synthetic chemicals or mineral nitrogen fertilisers is prohibited. Hydroponic production is prohibited (it is not regarded as organic in the EU).

The prevention of damage caused by pests, diseases and weeds relies primarily on the protection by natural enemies, the choice of species and varieties, crop rotation, cultivation techniques and thermal processes. In the case of an established threat to a crop, plant protection products may be used (there is a positive list of permissible products). Only organically-produced plant reproductive material shall be used.

For organic animal husbandry the rules are specific and cover the origin of the animals (which must be organic), the husbandry practices and housing conditions (there are rules on stocking densities, permanent access to open air areas, among others). For breeding, only appropriate breeds shall be chosen. Regarding feed, there is a positive list of feed materials, additives and processing aids. There are rules on animal welfare and disease prevention and veterinary treatment (the types of treatment are limited).

Processed foods must be produced mainly from ingredients of agricultural origin (95% of ingredients must be organic). There is a positive list of permissible additives, processing aids and flavourings. The preparation of processed organic food shall be kept separate in time or space from non-organic food. There are specific production rules for the making of organic wine. Substances and techniques that reconstitute properties that are lost in the processing and storage of organic food, that correct the results of negligence in the processing of these products or that otherwise may be misleading as to the true nature of these products, may not be used.

In terms of control, the role of EU supervises control authorities. Member States set up their own systems of controls and designate one or more competent authorities responsible for controls. 

In terms of labelling, the EU’s organic logo protects the quality of organic products. The term ‘organic’ can only be used if the product complies with the EU’s regulations. No product containing GMOs can be labelled organic. National labels may accompany the EU’s label. 

The EU has drafted an action plan to promote the development of organic production in Europe. 18 actions will be implemented by 2020 to enhance knowledge of the sector and farmers in 3 areas: the competitiveness of producers, consumer confidence and “external dimension”.

The action plan aims to support the growth of the sector, together with the forthcoming changes to the legislative framework, in particular by exploring new medium and long-term avenues for solutions to the challenges of supply and demand. This includes the goal of a convergence of standards between trading partners, exploring plurilateral agreements, regular consultations with developing countries and an increase in protection in third countries.  

New legislation on organic farming was proposed in 2014 and is now under review. The public consultation period, which is already over, drew 45,000 replies and involved hearings with 72 experts. The process should be completed by 2017 and the legislation implemented by 2020. 

Topic: EU trade regime of organic products and electronic certification for imports
Speaker: Mr Manuel ROSSI PRIETO, Policy Officer, "Organics" Unit, DG AGRI, European Commission 

All products imported into the European Union as organic are produced and controlled in accordance with equivalent standards. There are 12 equivalent third countries and 55 control bodies recognised for the purpose of equivalence, most of which are private. The bodies may use the EU’s organic label.

The Commission is responsible for negotiations with third countries, with the help of Member States. The scope of recognition depends on the country. For example, in the US and Canada it covers all products except aquaculture while in other countries it is more limited. For many countries organic working groups have been established. 

In 2014 there was big change in the way recognition was granted. Prior to 2014, this was done through administrative arrangements. Since 2014, recognition is only granted through international agreements. 1996 was the first year recognition was granted to third countries: (Argentina, Australia, Israel and Switzerland). However, the recognition was only reciprocal for Israel and Switzerland. A reciprocal agreement with New Zealand followed in 2002. Non reciprocal recognition was granted to Costa Rica in 2003 and India in 2006. Since then all recognitions (with Tunisia, Japan, Canada, the United States and South Korea) have been reciprocal and in future all recognitions will need to be reciprocal. The latest agreement with Chile is expected in 2017. 

For countries without recognition, the European Commission is responsible for the granting of recognition and supervision of control bodies, with the help of EU Member States. Recognition is granted on the basis of equivalent standards. Recognised bodies are subject to continuous supervision, have to submit annual reports, report irregularities through notifications, are subject to on-the-spot visits and may be requested to provide any other information. If serious shortcomings are found, the bodies may be subject to partial or full withdrawal of recognition. To date, 9 control bodies operating in Taiwan have been recognised to certify Taiwanese organic products for export to the EU, thereby allowing a path for Taiwanese products to be exported to the EU. All of the bodies are foreign-owned (mostly European and US-based) but some Taiwanese applications are being reviewed. 

EU regulations are in the process of being changed and will include a new provision on exports. Imports based on equivalence will remain for recognised third countries, but recognition of third countries will be granted only through international agreements and the list of recognized third countries will be phased out.

The EU’s agreement with Chile is the first in a new generation of agreements and the first with a Latin American country. A wide scope of products is covered. Talks are ongoing with other Latin American countries.

Another change being implemented in 2017 is the compulsory requirement for electronic certificates of inspection. All organic products imported into the EU must be accompanied by a certificate of inspection issued by a control body recognised by the Commission or by the competent authority of an equivalent third country, and endorsed by the competent authority of an EU Member State at the point of entry into the EU. Since 2008, paper certificates have been accepted but, starting in 2017, electronic certificates will replace paper certificates. 

The decision to replace paper certificates with electronic certificates was made based on recommendations of the European Council following a European Court of Auditors' Special Report (No 9/2012). In response, the Commission has developed a system of electronic certification for import, as a module integrated into the Trade Control and Export System (TRACES, the European Commission’s multilingual online management tool system). The decision to adopt this approach is because TRACES is a trans-European network (started in 2004) that is already well-known and understood. It covers trade in animals, plants and animal and plant products, is a web-based network accessible to all actors involved in the generation, issuing and endorsing of electronic certificates. The advantages include the fact that it is accessible 24-hours a day, it is secure (password-protected with limited access) and it is linked to RASFF when health/safety risks arise.

The expected benefits of electronic certificates include better traceability for organic products, reduced fraudulent behaviour, a reduced administrative burden for operators and authorities and the availability of reliable statistical data on organic imports. The combined effect is expected to increase the level of confidence on the part of European consumers. 

Some of the features of the electronic certificate include a secure database accessible only to the users involved in the process of importing organic products. In addition, each certificate issued receives a unique serial number automatically attributed by the system. It verifies that the certificate of inspection has been issued by a control body recognised by the EU or by a third country within the scope of its recognition (geographical and product scope). It verifies that the product falls under the scope of the EU regulation. It generates automatic warnings to other border points in the EU in case a consignment is refused and links to the irregularities notifications module. Since it links to the organic farming system used by authorities in the EU, if any actor finds a problem, s/he can notify the system.

For the major stakeholders, switching from paper to electronic will not bring any major changes in terms of workflow. The same steps will be followed:
  • First step: Initiation of the certificate by the importer or control body or control authority of the exporter.
  • Second step: Issuance of the certificate by the control body or control authority recognised as equivalent according to Annex III and Annex IV of Regulation (EC) No 1235/2008.
  • Third step: Endorsement of the certificate of inspection by the relevant Member State's authority after having verified the consignment. Only when the certificate of inspection is endorsed by this authority can the consignment be released for circulation.
  • Fourth (and last) step: The first consignee signs the declaration of reception of the goods. 

The amending Regulation (EC) 1235/2008 went into force on 19 April 2017. There will be a transitional period for the six months after that date where both paper and electronic certificates will coexist. Starting from 19 October, electronic certificates will be compulsory and TRACES will be the only system to be used to issue and endorse certificates of inspection for imports of organic products. 

Topic: The EU’s policy for setting pesticide MRLs
Speaker: Mr Stéphane ANDRE, Policy Officer, Directorate General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), European Commission

Mr Andre opened by saying that there is confusion between the concepts of food safety and organic food. Food may be organic but this does not imply that it is safe. A case of organic fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt that led to the deaths of 48 people in the EU demonstrated that organic food can still be harmful if the correct food safety and sanitation processes are not followed.

He went on to introduce the main players in food safety in the EU, pointing out that the tasks of risk assessors and risk managers (control authorities) are separated, and that the EU relies on science-based assessments. 

The EU’s legislative framework covers all stages of the whole lifecycle of a Plant Protection Product (PPP) from production until disposal. Regulation 1107/2009 provides for an exhaustive risk assessment of any PPP and the active substances contained therein. Only substances which have no negative effects on human and animal health and on the environment may be produced, placed on the market and used.

All PPPs must be used according to the principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which means following consideration of all available alternative options to control pests. Directive 128/2009 provides for the sustainable use of pesticides. Regulation 396/2005 assures that pesticide residues in food and feed do not result in a risk to human health, even following life-long consumption. 

The first general principle is to protect consumer safety while still facilitating trade. The aim of Regulation 396/2005 is to protect consumers through the setting of Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) and their enforcement. Legislation also recognises that MRLs are trading standards. Consumer risk assessment is based on comparison of exposure to toxicological reference values. MRLs should be set as low as reasonably achievable. For substance/commodity combinations without data, the MRL is set at the Limit of Qualification (LOQ) detection limit of the analytical method, or at default value of 0.01 milligrams per kilogram. 

MRLs are established based on either: 1) good agricultural practices (GAP) in Member States or GAP in some third countries. Some import tolerances are allowed for certain products. Data must allow complete risk assessment, taking into account information already available from earlier EU assessments on toxicology vs metabolism vs residues. If dossiers are incomplete or uncertainties are identified, it may lead to the rejection of the import tolerance request. Once a year, in the autumn, EU legislation is aligned with the new Codex Alimentarius Commission’s (CAC) MRLs, unless there are concerns. [As of 2016 4,844 MRLs (or CXLs) had been adopted by the CAC]. Once established, an MRL applies to all food and feed from the EU and third countries. 

Legislation provides the possibility for setting MRLs for processed products, fish and seafood and for feed-only crops such as hay, although this has not yet been done. There is a legal obligation to review MRLs, which is an ongoing process. Should MRLs be changed, there are transitional measures for products lawfully produced under "old" MRLs, unless there are concerns about consumer protection. 

The EU faces challenges related to pesticides, including challenges from legislation written at different points in time, substances whose residues do not come (exclusively) from use in plant protection, including dual-use substances such as veterinary medicinal products, biocides, feed additives, biostimulants and fertilisers and substances that are naturally occurring. Another challenge to overcome is that of negative public perceptions towards pesticides. 

The setting of MRLs is science-based and the EU applies the same food safety legislation to both organic and non-organic agri-food products.

Topic: Development and regulations on organic agriculture in Taiwan
Speaker: Mr LAI, Mean-young, Section Chief, AFA, COA, EY 賴明陽 行政院農業委員會農糧署科長

In line with the global growth in organic agriculture, the amount of land devoted to organic agriculture in Taiwan has risen from just over 2,000 hectares in 2008 to more than 6,700 hectares in 2016. As the rate continues to rise, Mr Lai estimated that it has already exceeded 7,000 hectares and is expected to soon exceed 8,000 hectares. The major organic crops grown in Taiwan are rice and vegetables. Before 2013, rice dominated but now the amount of land devoted to organic vegetables (2,530 hectares) has surpassed that of rice (1,853 hectares). This was helped in part by the promotion by local governments of organic vegetables in school lunches.

In terms of the ratio of land devoted to organic farming as a percentage of total arable land, Taiwan’s percentage of 0.84% is already higher than the global average and only exceeded by The Philippines and South Korea. 

Given Taiwan’s relatively small amount of arable land for its population, it relies on food imports to meet its food requirements, both organic and non-organic. The volume of organic food imports has been rising steadily since 2008 and exceeded 12,700 tonnes in 2016. The largest source of organic food imports is the United States (which accounted for 28% of total organic food imports in 2016), followed by mainland China (about 12%), New Zealand (around 12%) and Canada (3%). Germany and Italy accounted for about 3% each [the speaker did not provide figures for the whole EU area]. Grain accounts for the largest portion of imports given insufficient production in Taiwan. As a way to address this imbalance, the COA is promoting the cultivation of more organic grains and beans in Taiwan. 

The speaker went on to give an introduction to the regulatory framework in Taiwan. The Agricultural Production and Certification Act has provisions on organic production, processing, product certification and management for both locally-produced and imported organic products. No synthetic chemicals or GMOs may be used in organic production. Storage and transport cannot be in contact with banned substances. There is a provision for buffer areas to separate organic from conventional farmland and a conversion period for land being converted from conventional to organic use in order to allow a reduction of pesticide residues before granting organic certification. Agencies review applications and certify farmers and conduct post market sampling and testing of products. Producers must follow labelling laws. There are specified penalties for violations. 

Organic agricultural products that are certified by certification bodies of countries that Taiwan recognizes as having organic equivalence may become eligible for sale as organic following the issuance of an approval document by the AFA. For aftermarket sampling inspection, Taiwan applies the same LOQ based pesticide limits to all organic products, domestic and imported. If violations are found on imported organic products, not only will their importers be punished according to applicable laws, but the respective certification bodies will also be notified through official letters from Taiwan’s foreign offices in the respective countries. These certification bodies will be requested to carry out investigations and propose improvement measures. Failure to comply with the latter will result in tightened batch-by-batch examination on all products they certify.

Mr Lai said that a new system will soon be launched that will allow operators to apply for a pre-review of organic food consignments before they arrive in Taiwan in order to shorten the processing time. Post market inspections will be conducted and the same standards will apply to domestic and imported products. 

Taiwanese authorities are now in the process of drafting the new Organic Agriculture Promotion Act, aimed at promoting organic agricultural solutions, harmony between agricultural production and ecosystems, establishing professional organic farming zones, helping organic operators, making production and marketing plans as well as research and education. The rationale for the new act is to address the lack of promotional and support elements in current regulations, which focus only on management and control of products while support of the industry is missing. Farmers have complained that regulations are unfriendly. The COA has sent the draft act for review by the Executive Yuan and hopes to send it to the Legislative Yuan by the end of the year. Authorities consulted with organic stakeholders during the drafting process. One notable change mentioned by Mr Lai is that in the past the discovery of pesticide residues resulted in penalties for farmers. The new act will allow farmers to avoid penalties if they can prove that residues are not deliberate (although the contaminated products may not be sold).

The new act will enable promotional and marketing to support the aims of reducing stress on the ecosystem and maintaining biodiversity. Organic agricultural promotion solutions will be proposed every 4 years. Professional organic farming zones will be established. Assistance will be provided for certification fees, technology upgrades, marketing channel expansion, production-marketing facilities (equipment) and material loans. In addition, incentives will be provided for breeding activities and seedling production for organic agriculture. Farmers’ markets will be promoted to make organic agricultural products more accessible to consumers. 

Another major change in the new act is that the central competent authority (the COA) will no longer engage in accreditation directly. Instead, it will authorise this right to accreditation bodies, drawing a clearer distinction between the regulatory authority and the accreditation system. This will allow Taiwan’s domestic certification bodies to certify organic products overseas, providing a new path for foreign organic products to gain qualification to be sold as organic in Taiwan. In addition, it will limit the certification scope of certification bodies of organic equivalent countries to only products of their own countries. For countries that are unilaterally recognized by Taiwan’s central competent authority of organic equivalent, once the stipulated grace period ends, those that have not signed bilateral agreements or arrangements on organic equivalence will lose their equivalence status.

Session 1 panel discussion

Mr Panyakul reported that Thailand has a lot of promotional schemes, including subsidies (granted per hectare) for farmers who convert from conventional to organic farming. 

On a question related to pesticides in the EU, panellists reiterated the point that pesticides are very strictly regulated in the EU, farmers are trained to use them carefully and there are sanctions for misuse, although they are different depending on the Member State. For example the maximum penalty for misuse in France is €75,000 and 2 years’ imprisonment. 

Panellists reiterated the point that Taiwanese products can be imported into the EU as long as they have a certificate of inspection from a control body recognized by the EU. 

Panellists acknowledged that there is a debate about whether MRLs for organic food should be lower than those for non-organic food given higher consumer expectations of organic food. However the point was made that the MRL level is less important than whether or not the law is enforced. Even if a zero tolerance level is set, it is ineffective and consumers will not have confidence if it is not legally enforced.

The list of recognized certification bodies in Taiwan are mostly from Europe but a Taiwanese body is currently being assessed. Initial results of this assessment are expected soon.

A panellist reported that certain players in Taiwan have started to use the TRACES system for fishery products. The system works well and he recommended that others players in Taiwan also start using this tool to avoid problems at customs.

Taiwan does not have zero tolerance for pesticides but sets limits which vary depending on the pesticides.

On the process towards a bilateral organic trade agreement with the EU, which replaces administrative arrangements (which was really just an exchange of letters), the EU begins by asking for a mandate from Member States and then proceeds to negotiate the agreement. Once completed the agreement is signed by the European Council and is then submitted to the European Parliament for review. The process to reach an agreement with Chile took two years.

Session 2: Best practice sharing

Topic: Leezen’s vision and practice in Taiwan
Speaker: Ms Sophie TONEGAWA, International Sales Manager, Leezen Company Limited

Leezen has been operating in Taiwan for 19 years. (The first store was opened in 1998). Based on the founder’s aim to restore harmony between humans and nature and concern about the entire process from farm to table, attention is paid to everything regarding how food is made, what is added during the process, the ingredients used and how these ingredients are grown. In this regard, when sourcing products they had to change the perceptions and practices of farmers to grow crops without using pesticides.

The company’s “core value” is to promote trust, teamwork and gratitude between farmers/manufacturers, consumers and Leezen. 20 years ago there was very little knowledge of organic farming on the part of both farmers and consumers. But this has changed thanks to the hard work of farmers and the support of consumers. Ms Tonegawa cited some examples of consumers who were willing to buy products that sometimes appeared sub-standard, because they identified with the concept of organic farming and farmers’ efforts to grow healthy produce and protect the environment.

Consumer trust for Leezen is built on its values, food safety standards and the drive towards healthy food. In this regard they support local producers as much as possible. No GMO ingredients are allowed. No artificial flavours colours or sweeteners are allowed and the use of preservatives is minimized. In addition, they try to use less oil, salt and sugar and try to educate consumers that they are promoting, as far as possible, the natural taste of food. 

As part of its food safety process, Leezen reviews the ingredients of recipes submitted by suppliers and then checks that the ingredients are organic. It uses third parties to conduct onsite inspections for new products to make sure ingredients are the same as those listed in recipes. The process is repeated, sometimes on an annual basis, but at least once every three years. 

She went on to cite the example of her company’s support of an organic mulberry grower in Pingtung. Given the fact that mulberries are a very delicate fruit which spoils easily, especially when grown organically, this often leads to a lot of waste. Because it is difficult to always sell the mulberries when they are fresh, Leezen helped the farmer to find food processing partner companies, which made juices, jams, fruit teas and jellies from the mulberries.

In 2016, Leezen’s suppliers purchased 815 tonnes of local organic fresh fruit and vegetables.

Rice had long been an important staple food in Taiwan. However, since the 1990s, the consumption of rice has declined in favour of western food. Along with the decline in demand for rice, the number of rice paddies also declined, [which has been exacerbated by the rise in cheap rice imports]. There are many environmental benefits of rice paddies. They serve as large water reservoirs that collect and preserve water in the soil.  When grown organically, rice paddies help to preserve the wetland ecology and provide a friendly habitat for birds, frogs, and many small animals. Rice paddies also help to regulate climate change in the area by reducing heat and adjusting humidity levels. 

Leezen helps by working with 15 rice cooperatives to preserve 1,670 hectares of rice paddies and purchasing and selling organic rice in its stores and also processing rice into all kinds of products, including pasta and snacks. It also works with a foundation to support farmers in tough times and to help farmers in their transition from conventional to organic farming. It purchases products from farmers in “green conservation projects”, which are recognized by a special logo. It is also working with the government and other groups to protect species such as frogs, butterflies and birds.  

According to the speaker, Leezen had 8 million consumer visits in 2016. Sales have risen by 52% between 2012 and 2016. It has 129 stores in Taiwan which stock over 4,800 items. It has since opened its first stores in Canada and China. 

Topic: Successful Taiwan case in domestic and export markets
Speaker: Mr HSIEH Meng, General Manager, Goldencrops Corporation 謝孟甫 鈺統食品股份有限公司總經理

Goldencrops was established in 1987. It has 3 production facilities, 14 lines of products and 200 employees. It specialises in the formulation and supply of grain cereal and nutritional products using cereal processing technology from Germany, Australia and The Netherlands. It offers ODM services to over 1,000 clients using over 50 types of cereal ingredients to produce custom-finished products such as formulated dairy, balanced formulas and organic products. It also supplies bulk ingredients such as rolled oats, corn flakes and instant baby cereals. 

It was one of the first companies to import organic products to Taiwan in the 1990s. Later on, a strategic decision was made to manufacture domestically and support local agricultural producers as much as feasible. It was one of the first companies to get certification in the United States. One of Goldencrops’ key missions is to work closely with Leezen in order to help local organic growers to process and package their products. The speaker went on to introduce his company’s products. 

For products to be certified as organic in Taiwan, more than 95% of ingredients therein have to be certified organic ingredients (excluding salt & water). In line with this requirement, non-certified products may not have an organic seal or the word “organic” listed on product labels or their related marketing/promotional materials (such as leaflets and brochures). Organic ingredients, even when used, may not to be stated in the ingredients list for products that are not certified.

Mr Hsieh expressed the view, based on his experience, that if more organic categories could be recognized; for example “made with organic” ingredients, or allowing organic ingredients to be identified on labels, this would greatly help the whole organic industry in general and encourage the growing or farming of organic crops. He added that, according to his own survey, many consumers would prefer organic products with added nutrients, which is currently restricted. He therefore recommended revising the national list of permissible nutrients and labelling standards. 

Topic: First in Sicily Consortium – A European business best practice
Speaker: Mr Rosario ROMANO, Partner, First in Sicily Agrofood Consortium

The speaker began by giving an overview of the strict regulations governing organic food in the EU that is followed by the First in Sicily Consortium.

The growth in organic food in the EU is being driven by changes in consumer perceptions, especially the fact that more and more consumers are willing to pay higher prices for quality. The EU framework creates the conditions to develop the organic sector and the trust in organic labelling by end consumers. 

The goal of organic production is to be sustainable. Conventional companies may produce with zero emissions but this does not imply that they are organic, which requires that everything in the production process has to be organic, from fertilizers in the soil to the end product. The EU Ecolabel includes all productive processes of non-agricultural products.

Italy is a leader in organic production and consumption. Between 2006 and 2015, sales of organic products in Italian super and hypermarkets more than doubled, reaching €873 million while the weight of sales of organic products in total food sold in supermarkets reached 2.5% of total volume in 2015, up from 1.4% in 2006. 

Sicily’s economy depends primarily on agriculture and tourism. It has a large number of organic farms, which provide excellent products. The island nurtures an ideal blending of innovation and tradition with the younger generation investing in high quality, branding and marketing of products grown and produced using traditional methods. 

First in Sicily is a cluster of ecolabel and organic Sicilian companies, created to increase opportunities and scale to supply international consumers with the highest quality food products. It was founded by 9 Sicilian companies, which are leaders in their product sectors. The multi-year experience in the choice of the best raw materials, in the methods of production but also in the continuous research into new technologies and business management, guarantee the best Sicilian products. A year ago the consortium introduced a new logo.

The speaker went on to introduce the companies and products of the consortium. All products are produced using local produce. The companies which are part of the consortium, have signed a commitment to have in their portfolios certified as organic products. 

Topic: Successful European domestic and export market cases
Speaker: Mr Ioannis ANAGNOSTPOULOS, Export Manager, BIOIASIS

According to statistics cited by Mr Agagnostpoulos, in 2015, 2.4 million organic producers were reported globally. India continues to be the country with the highest number of producers (585,200), followed by Ethiopia (203,602) and Mexico (200,039). A total of 50.9 million hectares were organically managed at the end of 2015, representing a growth of 6.5 million hectares over 2014, the largest growth rate ever recorded. 

Australia is the country with the largest organic agricultural area (22.7 million hectares), followed by Argentina (3.1 million hectares), and the USA (2 million hectares). Forty-five percent of the global organic agricultural land is in Oceania (22.8 million (hectares), followed by Europe (12.7 million hectares), and Latin America (6.7 million hectares). 

The organic market in Europe continues to grow. In 2015, it increased by 13% and reached close to €27 billion in the EU. Almost all major markets enjoyed double-digit growth rates. The market is growing more than the amount of farmland designated as organic. Spain, Italy and France have the largest areas of organic farmland. 

In Greece, organic agriculture began in the early 1980s with the cultivation of currants for export to The Netherlands. This was followed by organic olive oil. In 1993 the European Regulation on Organic Agriculture came into force and the first Greek organization for the control and certification of organic Products (DIO) was established.

Greece has a very dynamic internal market for organic products (500 stores) and products are exported to 70 countries. However, since 2010 there has been a marked decline in the number of organic farmers as well as in organic arable land. This is largely due to the completion of a subsidy programme.

Bioiasis was founded in 2007. It produces innovative products such organic and conventional osmotic dried fruits through the process of osmosis (natural fruit dehydration, which, according to the speaker, prolongs the life of the fruit) as well as osmotic juices. It also exports organic and conventional herbs, spices, flour and wheat. Only top quality fruit is used and no preservatives or additives are added in order to maintain flavour and nutritional value. 

Session 2 Q&A

Mr Andre made the point that the concepts of food safety and organic production should not be confused as it may be detrimental to organic food producers. 

Leezen started producing food without pesticides and without additives well before Taiwan had regulations on organic produce.

A person from the audience questioned why the premium on organic food [over conventionally-farmed products] in Taiwan is 40-70%, which is much higher than the average premium of about 30% in Europe. One of the panellists replied that this was because of the 95% organic requirement in Taiwan. Since only a very small portion of products meet this requirement, there is a scarcity of organic food available, which leads to higher prices. Another panellist countered that prices depend on several factors. Some imported organic products are relatively cheap compared to those that are locally-produced and others not available in Taiwan are sometimes expensive. Products grown in Taiwan that require more land to cultivate may be more expensive given the scarcity of arable land. 

Session 3: Organic food marketing and promotion

Topic: Promotion of organic food in Taiwan
Speaker: Dr HUANG-TZENG Chang-Ju, Professor, Department of Applied Economics and Management & Chairperson, Organic Center, National Ilan University, Taiwan 黃璋如 國立宜蘭大學教授

Professor Huang has been studying and promoting organic agriculture since 1996, when she conducted a study on organic agriculture in Germany and its implications for Taiwan. She noted that farming in Taiwan was originally organic but after pesticides were introduced, it became the prevailing view that agriculture is not possible without pesticides. She has since conducted research in several related areas including “Evaluation on the Contribution of Organic Farming to Food Safety and Environment” (in the year 2000); “Management of Organic Agricultural Inputs in Germany” (in 2004); “Organic Product Safety Management Policies and Systems in Germany and Taiwan” (2005) and “Market Policies and Import Controls for Organic Products in Germany“ (2006). 

Professor Huang has contributed to the drafting of new legislation for the Organic Agriculture Promotion Act. The government’s support of the new act demonstrates the government’s commitment to promoting organic food. 

While organic food is not equivalent to food safety, food safety is nevertheless an important component of organic farming. 

The professor went on to introduce information websites, in particular the Taiwan Organic Information Portal, which was set up in 1987 by Ilan University with support from the COA. The portal is operated by Ilan University. It provides information, such as the difference between organic and conventional farming, education on GMOs for consumers, updates on government policies and information about organic farmers, among others. It attracts more than 1,000 visitors a day. 

Ilan University also produces an “Organic e-paper”, which publishes article about problems facing organic farmers. It has published 646 issues since 1988 and has over 45,000 subscribers. It also publishes an electronic newsletter and has been maintaining a Facebook page since 2011, which has 16,000 fans. This is in addition to a Line group. Many participants in its social media platforms are organic farmers.

Ilan University established an Organic Certification Management System in 2003, which maintains certification data in a database covering producers, land, production items and certification periods. The system has been revamped three times and its present version was re-enabled in 2017 and is now managed by the AFA. 

A catalogue of organic vendors has been set up to list farms, operators, restaurants and merchants (although it cannot be used to search for an organic vendor) and certification data from the Organic Certification Management System had not yet been imported [at the time of the seminar]. 

Since 2005 about 150 Organic e-Shops, run by farmers have been set up. The e-shop system does not sell products directly but it enables consumers to buy products directly from farmers. There is also an organic farmers e-market (a virtual market on the internet) which allows farmers to post information on items for sale and for consumers to contact them directly. 

In 2013 the “Organic Heart Restaurant” initiative was launched. Although there is no certification involved in the initiative and not all food served is necessarily organic, “good intentions” towards guests, the environment and local farmers are recognized in the form of hearts (5 hearts is the highest rating). 

Getting to 100% organic is difficult. For example, only three farms in Taiwan sell organic eggs. 

There are several initiatives to drive organic food for children. Ilan was the first to begin providing organic food to children as far back as 2005. New Taipei first adopted organic vegetables for school lunches once a week in 2011. Yilan provides organic food and rice every Wednesday. This has been a big driving force in promoting organic farming. 

The government is also pushing for food and agriculture education. Civil servants now have to spend four hours a year learning about the environment. This likely to be extended to food given the drafting of the Food and Agriculture Education Law, which is still in progress. 

Taiwan’s first organic farmers market was established in Chung-Hsing University in 2007. At present there are more than 100. The advantage of these markets is that they allow farmers to sell their products directly, giving them higher profit margins. They also help to build ties and trust between consumers and farmers.

The “Organic shelf project”, started in 2010, which separates organic from conventional products on supermarket shelves, aims to convince and guide consumers in supermarkets to buy organic food.

Starting in 2017, the government has started to offer subsidies for organic and eco-friendly farms of NT$30,000 per hectare per year for a maximum of 3 years. There is an additional income subsidy for farms in the process of converting from conventional to organic.

Professor Huang concluded that given the difficulties of switching to organic, organic farmers need support and encouragement and that all stakeholders need to work together to promote organic food. She made the point that organic food is not expensive considering the cost and effort involved in producing it. She cited the example of the price of leafy green vegetables, which have hardly changed in 20 years, despite inflation. Consumers should take into account this abnormally low inflation rate, even though the prices of organic fresh green-leafed vegetables are higher than their conventional counterparts. She also said there was a need to change perceptions. Many consumers, for example are willing to spend N$100 or more on a cup of coffee but not willing to spend half that amount on a bunch of green vegetables, despite the health benefits and the amount of effort on the part of farmers required to produce the vegetables. What is needed is to create a better understanding on the part of consumers of what it takes to produce organic food.

Topic: Promotion programme for organic products co-financed by the European Commission
Speaker: Mr Manuel ROSSI PRIETO, Policy Officer, "Organics" Unit, DG AGRI, European Commission

Regulation (EU) No 1144/2014, which was implemented in 2015, provides the legal basis for the EU’s promotion of European agricultural food in Europe. Under the legislation an annual work programme has been adopted. 

The scope of eligible projects and schemes is wide, covering all agricultural products, including organic products (but excluding tobacco products) as well as processed products including beer, chocolate, pasta, sweet corn and cotton and spirits with a Protected Geographical Indication, wine and certain fishery and aquaculture products.  

The main actors are proposing organisations, such as trade or inter-trade organisations representative of the sector(s) concerned in Member States, trade or inter-trade organisations at the EU level, producer organisations and bodies with public service missions in charge of the promotion of agricultural products. Proposing organisations must be established in EU Member States. Each proposing organisation must assign a separate implementing agency. 

While several brands may be promoted in campaigns, brands should be given equal visibility and the graphic representation of brands must be smaller than the main EU message of the campaign. When mentioning origin, it should always be secondary in relation to the main message, which is to promote the EU. 

There are two main types of actions: information and promotion programmes (to which most of the budget is allocated) and commission initiatives. 

Information and promotion programmes run from 1-3 years. Proposals are submitted by proposing organisations (PO). They may be for programmes from one or more PO from the same Member State or multi programmes involving several POs from several Member States. Commission initiatives take the form of information and promotion measures such as high-level missions to third countries aimed at opening market access, participation in trade fairs, the Commission’s own campaigns and technical support services. 

Projects are co-financed by the Commission with co-financing rates ranging from 75-85% (and up to 90% for Member States under financial assistance). 

Under new selection procedures, programmes directly submitted to the European Commission do not require co-financing. There is one selection per year based on priorities established in the annual work programme. Implementation is adapted to the specificities of the programmes. Since this is done on an annual basis, it allows for changes to be made every year to align with the needs of each sector.  

The major proportion of the annual work programme’s budget is allocated in the form of grants (€133 million in 2017) while €9.5 million was allocated to procurement for the Commission’s own initiatives. The budget is being raised every year and is expected to reach €200 million by 2029. 

In 2017 priority areas (topics) in the EU internal market were Topic 1) Quality schemes and Topic 2) Generic. For third countries (Topic 3), Taiwan was listed as one of the countries of focus along with China, Japan, South Korea and India. 

There is also a budget of €4.5 million set aside to address serious market disturbances. If the budget is not used, an additional call is issued for proposals. 

Eligible activities include the management of projects, public relations, websites and social media, advertising, events and point of sale promotions, among others. 
Award criteria priorities are: 1) Union dimension; 2) Technical quality of the project; 3) Management quality and 4) Cost-effectiveness. The speaker went on to list some examples of accepted programmes in 2016 and examples of campaigns.

Final Q&A and panel discussion

On a question about the monitoring of the EU’s annual work programme, panellists replied that each programme is checked to ensure that is properly implemented.

On a question about the authenticity of organic farmers on Taiwan’s e-Shopping malls, panellists replied that the new system run by the AFA only allows certified farmers to log onto its website and that there are regulations that will penalise violators. Although the sale of organic produce is regulated, it is nevertheless not possible to verify that all products sold on the website are organic. 

On a question about cross-contamination of pesticides, panellists replied that the EU has strict regulations on the use of pesticides to ensure that they do not contaminate surrounding areas.

One of the panellists made the point that organic production cannot solve all problems. For example, there are a lot of problems with fish farming and food health that is not talked about. It is therefore not reasonable to expect that organic farming will solve all problems. While it is true that consumers and producers are far apart and drifting, organic farming practitioners are just doing their best for the environment.

While consumers place a lot of faith in certificates, it is not just a question of pesticides that they should be concerned about. One panellist expressed the importance of educating the public about the difficulty of growing organic food in order to explain not only the real costs of organic farming (such as the difficulty of using organic methods to get rid of weeds and control pests) but also the external costs of conventional farming, such as degradation of farmland and reduction in nutritional value of conventionally-grown food compared to their healthier organic counterparts. These factors need to be taken into account when considering the price of organic food.