In the European Commission’s work programme 2021 reference is made to a non-legislative initiative to prepare an action plan for the development of organic production on the way to 2030. In other already published strategies, like the Farm to Fork and the Biodiversity strategies, the Commission has committed to a target of 25 per cent of the EU’s agricultural land being under organic farming by 2030 as well as a significant increase in organic aquaculture. These targets aim to both improve the sustainability of the food system and to revert biodiversity loss.
“The 25 per cent is an EU-level target,” an EU spokesperson tells CEENERGYNEWS. “It is ambitious and commensurate to our sustainability challenge. Currently, the organic area in the EU27 is at 8 per cent of agricultural land. Member States are asked to set explicit national values for the organic target and these should take into account the efforts made over the years, the starting point and the potential for improvement, thus acknowledging in this desired collective effort, the specific situation of each Member State.”
The soon to arrive action plan will help Member States to stimulate the supply and demand for organic products as well as to ensure consumer trust.
What is it all about?
Organic farming is an agricultural method that aims to produce food using natural substances and processes with limited environmental impact. It encourages the use of farm-derived renewable resources, the enhancement of biological cycles within the farming system, the maintenance of biodiversity, the preservation of regional ecological balances, the maintenance and increase of soil fertility and the responsible use and proper care of water. Additionally, organic farming rules encourage a high standard of animal welfare and require farmers to meet the specific behavioural needs of animals.
It is a priority for the Commission to ensure that the organic farming sector has the right tools in place as well as a well-functioning and consensual legal framework which is key to achieving the target 25 per cent.
What has been already done and what can we expect from the upcoming regulation?
EU regulations on organic farming are designed to provide a clear structure for the production of organic goods to satisfy consumer demand for trustworthy organic products while providing a fair marketplace for producers, distributors and marketers.
Each EU member appoints control bodies or authorities to inspect operators in the organics food chain. Producers, distributors and marketers of organic products must register with their local control body before they are allowed to market their food as organic. After they have been inspected and checked, they will be awarded a certificate to confirm that their products meet organic standards.
To provide an effective legal framework for the industry, the EU has passed new legislation. Due to the complexity and importance of the secondary legislation under preparation, the Commission has proposed to postpone its entry into force by one year, to 1 January 2022.
IFOAM Organics Europe, the umbrella organisation for organic food and farming has welcome the one-year postponement of the new Organic Regulation, highlighting that most acts were planned to be published in November and December 2020, giving organic operators little to no time to adapt.
That is why in April 2020 beside others, IFOAM Organics Europe asked for a one-year postponement.
“IFOAM Organics Europe and its members advocated at all levels to make sure the implementation would be feasible for those working in organic,” the association declared. “Convincing policy-makers on the need of this change of date was not easy as basic regulations are rarely amended before their implementation, but our work paid off.”
The upcoming regulations are going to govern all areas of organic production and are based on a number of key principles, such as the prohibition of the use of GMOs; forbidding the use of ionising radiation; limiting the use of artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides; prohibiting the use of hormones and restrict the use of antibiotics (except when necessary for animal health).
Also, organic producers need to adopt different approaches to maintaining soil fertility, animal and plant health including.
An organic logo to make a difference
The organic logo will give a visual identity to EU produced organic products, sold within the EU. This makes it easier for consumers to identify organic products and helps farmers to market them across all EU countries.
The organic logo can only be used on products that have been certified as organic by an authorised control agency or body. This means that they have fulfilled strict conditions on how they are produced, transported and stored.
Can we measure the land under organic production?
In 2018, the EU’s total area of farmland under organic production grew to 13.8 million hectares. Compared to 2017, the number of organic producers in the EU increased by 7.1 per cent. Between 2009 and 2018, the value of the EU’s organic market more than doubled.
Indeed, the European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy mentions organic as a key sector to achieve the European Green Deal’s food goals: “the market for organic food is set to continue growing and organic farming needs to be further promoted”.
Percentage of agricultural land under organic use in CEE
In Estonia 21,6 per cent of agricultural land is under organic use.
“Estonia already has 22 per cent organic land, but there is a real threat that organic’s success story is not going on,” Airi Vetemaa, head of the Estonian Organic Farming Foundation tells CEENERGYNEWS. “Unfortunately, the government does not believe that much has to be done to achieve the 25 per cent target. True is that organic farmland has decreased for the first time in 2020. There are several reasons for this, most importantly the falling export prices (for example, for cereals) and limited support for organic which is among the lowest in the EU.”
“Economically speaking, organic farming is just not viable anymore,” he continues. “This is why preparing a support scheme that is attractive to organic farmers is crucial. Our organic farmers are asking the government to commit to the EU’s target of 25 per cent of organic land by 2030. We have the potential to take the lead in organic farming development, but it can happen only with relevant policies.”
On the other hand, Latvia just reached 15,4 per cent (which means 280 thousand hectares) land under organic farming.
“In Latvia, development for organic agriculture was subsidies-based,” explains Janis Garancs, Board member of Latvia Organic Agriculture Association and Managing Director of Aloja Starkelsen, one of the largest producers of organic potato starch on a global scale. “Since entering the EU and for 10 years, it has been a fast and rapid growth for organic because there was a subsidy system from the government. We reached around 15 per cent of arable land, certified organic.”
However, when the growth of funding for organic support stopped, the growth of organic land stopped as well.
“For my sector, organic processing, the situation was good as there was national support for new food production sites,” he tells CEENERGYNEWS. “Our main challenge is developing consumption, the best driver of organic development. Latvia still has a low consumption of organic (around 1 per cent). The majority of organic products, which are produced or even processed, are exported to other EU countries.”
Other countries of the CEE region stand between 12,8 per cent (Czech Republic) and 2,5 per cent (Romania). The Balkan region is the most underdeveloped one, they are under 2 per cent, except Bulgaria and Greece with 3,5 and 6 per cent respectively.
The good news is that according to IFOAM Organics Europe the transition is possible.
“Transitioning towards a more sustainable food system and a higher share of organic land is possible if the right policies are in place,” the association reported. “A leaflet outlines the policy support that is needed in the new organic action plan and relevant policies to increase both the production of and the demand for organic.”
In their leaflet, IFOAM Organics Europe highlights the need for 10 priorities to boost both organic demand and production, for example, to build national organic NGO’s capacity for market development; to give organic actors access to research and innovation funds and equip organic farmers with the right tools like natural substances and seeds.
According to the organisation, further basic steps – that need to be taken if the EU would like to reach its 25 per cent target – are included in their other leaflet called 25 per cent Organic Land In Europe by 2030: Ambitious but achievable with the right policies in place.
The soon arriving Action Plan
The European Commission’s Action Plan for Organic Farming will be organised around three key angles.
“To stimulate demand for organic products while maintaining consumer trust, to encourage the increase of organic farming area in production in the EU and finally, to enhance the role of organic production in the fight against climate change, including sustainable resource management and the protection of biodiversity,” concludes the EU spokesperson.