Our proposal has three parts – a legally binding framework regulation, minimum legal requirements plus voluntary modular add-on standards, and a possible link to agricultural payments.
The starting point would be an EU regulation which would govern the general principles applicable to any activity as a farmer in the EU. Farmers would have to comply with the principles or otherwise lose their market concession. The framework would also set out the institutional framework for monitoring compliance.
The second part would lay down the minimum legal rules that must be followed. These would be abstract, minimum objectives analogous to “achieve consumer safety” in a product safety context.
Sitting alongside the legal rules would be two groups of voluntary, modular standards made available to all farms. The first group of voluntary standards would help farms achieve the minimum legal requirements – compliance with voluntary standards would create the presumption that legal standards were also met. This is key, as the burden of proof is then with the claimant (e.g. the regulatory authority or consumer). The second set of standards, also voluntary, would cover farms that wished to go beyond the minimum – for example, develop organic farming, nature conservation, or animal welfare – and would allow them to use the corresponding quality labelling.
In all cases, farmers could develop their own methods to satisfy the minimum legal rules. However, in any dispute (e.g. product safety issues or environmental claims), the burden of proof will be on the farmer to show that they satisfied the legal rules.
The third limb of our proposal links farm payments to the standards above. With minimum standards, CAP would pay farmers additional costs for meeting CAP/EU requirements above world market standards. In respect of the second, higher quality standards, the basic mechanism could be similar to the current arrangements for organic farming, where certified farms that meet legal requirements receive specific premia.