Three categories of organic goods can be imported from a third country into the UK or another European Union (EU) member state without an import authorisation provided they come from an exporter controlled by a:
- recognised control body in the countries deemed by the European Commission to be EU-equivalent third countries
- listed control body recognised by the Commission as applying standards equivalent to EU organic standards in specified third countries
- listed control body recognised by the Commission as applying EU organic standards in specified third countries
If the country from which you intend to import an organic product does not fit into any of the above categories, you must have an authorisation issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) or another member state before you import any products. This will gradually fall away as the Commission recognises the organic production rules and systems of inspection of third countries as being equivalent to those in the EU.
All consignments of organic produce imported from a third country into a member state must be accompanied by a Certificate of Inspection that is issued by a certification body in the country of origin.
Importing organic products from the EU
You can import produce from the EU into the UK and sell it freely as organic, provided it is produced or processed in the EU by an operator registered with an approved EU organic certification body. You may, however, need to be certified as an organic processor if you store the goods in bulk, carry out further processing and/or repackage the organic products in the UK.
If your business will be importing organic products (including plants, plant products, livestock, livestock products, or any other food made from these products including animal feed and entirely unprocessed agricultural products) from another EU member state, you don't need to be registered/certified for importing, and an import authorisation is not needed. This is because Defra's equivalents in other EU member states ensure that their organic inspection/certification bodies are working to the same EU regulation as is applied in the UK.
Organic produce grown in the EU and pre-packaged products produced in the EU must meet prescribed labelling and marketing requirements.
Importing organic products from 'equivalent' third countries
Eleven non-EU countries have equivalence status, which means that your business can import organic produce from them without authorisation from Defra as their organic regimes are recognised as being on a par with EU organic regimes. The current list includes:
United States of America
While you do not need to apply for authorisation to import organic goods from the above countries, you must:
be certified by one of the UK organic certifying bodies
present a Certificate of Inspection to the port health authority (PHA) for endorsement
check whether any temporary or emergency measures affect import controls, tests and/or documentation from a particular country or for a particular product/s - eg produce from certain areas of Japan following the nuclear incident in March 2011
Importing organic products from 'non-equivalent' third countries
If your business will be importing from other third countries (non-EU and non-equivalent) you'll need to be registered/certified with one of the UK organic certifying authorities - read more about preparing to import organic produce.
You must also hold an import authorisation from Defra for the product concerned.
To gain your organic import authorisation from Defra you're required to complete form OB11 - an initial application to market in the EU organic products from third countries.
In assessing your OB11 application, Defra will ensure that the organic products being imported into the UK from a third country are certified by an organic inspection/control body that meets the requirements of IS065/EN45011 and is recognised by Defra or other EU member states for their work. Defra will want to see evidence, largely in the form of operators' certificates, that standards equivalent to Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 have been applied at all stages.
The OB11 application can be completed by the third country's inspection body on your behalf. Applications where the importer has sought the help of the third country inspection body tend to be more successful. Defra will assess the OB11 within ten working days. It's important to note that products shouldn't be imported from non-equivalent third countries before an import authorisation has been secured.
Your authorisation must be renewed annually.