Rethink needed on crazy organic rules


VI-1 win galavanises trade in fight against law that will require importers to be audited by organic licensing bodies


Having won the battle to scrap VI-1 import forms, the wine trade is being urged to start campaigning against plans that will make organic wine importing more problematic.

There are also calls to make the government change course on regulations that would make it illegal to bring in wines from the EU without importer details on the back label – a requirement that did not apply when the UK was part of the single market but which is mandatory for wines from outside the EU.

There was widespread jubilation last month when the government finally accepted the trade’s argument that VI-1 forms for EU wines would add about £330 per shipment because of compulsory lab tests, deterring many smaller producers from dealing with UK importers, typically independent merchants.

Daniel Lambert of Daniel Lambert Wines, who, along with David Gleave of Liberty Wines, Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine Merchants and Miles Beale of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, had led the trade’s fight against VI-1s, says the question of organic wine imports was “the next pressing matter”.

From January next year, any importer that brings in wines that are certified as organic will themselves need to be audited and accredited by one of the seven UK authorities. In Lambert’s case, this will cost £750 for a year, but the charges can be much higher.

He describes the situation as “a nonsense” that “the government didn’t think through at all”.

He adds: “To get the licence you wouldn’t believe what you have to go through. I had to go through a full audit as if I was actually growing the grapes in my warehouse – it’s ridiculous.

“We have gone through the pain and been through a two-and-a-half-hour interview and paid the money to be an organic importer, all of which I think is a complete and utter nonsense.

“We started this process in February and we still haven’t got our certificate because they are still doing the checks that we are going to store the wine correctly.

“None of it is relevant because we are not customer-facing in terms of the general public, and the retailers themselves don’t need to be certified as organic retailers. It seems to me that this is a law that has been fudged all the way through.

“It’s in the secondary legislation, like the VI-1s were, so it can be overturned quite quickly, as we’ve seen. It’s something that nobody has shouted about because obviously the VI-1 was more pressing until now.”

Hal Wilson at Cambridge Wine Merchants adds: “I can’t see why you would want to penalise organic producers who have already paid a lot to demonstrate their environmental credentials. The people who import their wines are heavily audited and regulated.”

Wilson suggests that, while the VI-1 battle had essentially been a trade campaign, consumers could potentially be brought on board to help make the case for a more common sense approach to organics.

The requirement of adding importer details to back labels is expected to add about 9p a bottle to costs.

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