The ambition from above is being replaced by market-driven development from below.
The amended action plan for organic farming is from the Austrian MEP Simone Schmiedtbauer. As rapporteur for the Committee on Agriculture in the European Parliament, she wrote a farmer-friendly version of the organic farming growth plan drawn up by Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski. In the revised version, the growth target of 25 percent organic area is no longer included.
It was long uncertain whether the decision putting the Schmiedtbauer alternative alternative plan to the vote would be adopted by the European Parliament. Left-wing Eurogroups tried to get the target of a quarter of organic farming by 2030 into the texts via an amendment. Despite this, 611 of the 705 MEPs voted in favor of Schmiedtbauer’s proposal.
“Fortunately, common sense still exists,” MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen (SGP) said after the vote. Before that, he had criticized EU Commissioners Frans Timmermans (Climate) and Janusz Wojciechowski (Agriculture)’s target of 25 percent organic agricultural land.
It’s just top farmers who are no inferior to their usual counterparts
‘That percentage was a statement in the land-to-table strategy, but had no legally binding value at all. We saw it repeated in the documents on the national strategic plans, says Ruissen, himself also a member of the Committee on Agriculture in the European Parliament. “We have always advocated for organic growth in the organic market. Forced growth would lead to market disruptions. ‘
Wojciechowski was by no means disappointed with the result of the vote. Many of his proposals to increase organic production have been adopted. He believes the result of the vote is ‘a good compromise’.
Poland’s EU Commissioner says a shift to organic farming could be a last resort for many small and medium-sized farms. ‘Now that energy and fertilizers are becoming even more expensive due to the Russian war against Ukraine, it only makes more sense to switch to an agriculture without chemicals.’
Save family businesses
Wojciechowski sees organic as the only way to continue farming, especially for family businesses in Eastern and Central Europe. He refers to the 4 million small farms that have disappeared in the EU over the last twenty years.
The now adopted farmer-friendly growth plan for organic farming supports the importance of switching to organic. For the request for more EU funding for the development of organic farming, the Commissioner for Agriculture referred to the regional structural funds and the new eco-schemes in the national strategic plans. The 27 EU Member States are also expected to advertise much more for organic products and the EU organic label.
Large differences between Member States
Supporters and opponents in the European Parliament actually agreed that there can be no single growth target for all 27 EU countries. It is not only the differences between agricultural sectors and geography that are too great for this. With 3.95 percent organic area, the flat Holland is a Klein Duimpje compared to mountainous Austria (26.1 percent).
There are also differences in consumption, purchasing power and availability. For example, a resident of Poland spends an average of 4 euros a year on organic food and a resident of Denmark 300 euros. Almost all small or medium-sized cities in the Netherlands or Denmark have an organic shop, but in Poland you have to drive an average of 80 kilometers for it.
Danger of market disruption
Given the differences between Member States, the question was whether the market could cope with rapid growth to 25% organically. Agricultural organizations have repeatedly pointed out the danger of market disruption in Brussels. There is therefore a relieved response to the deletion of this target.
Tineke de Vries, chairman of the LTO department for Agriculture and Outdoor Vegetables, says that it is unlikely that the market could have managed so much more organic products. “With the high inflation, you can already see that food is fast becoming more expensive, and this applies even more to organic food. Organic will therefore simply be and remain too expensive for many consumers, and without sufficient market demand we can forget about a good revenue model. ‘
Learning from colleagues
De Vries sees that conventional farmers can learn a lot from their organic counterparts to make crops more sustainable. ‘There is a lot more profit to be made there. The EU should focus more on the system approach in conventional agriculture. To this end, green plant protection products and modern breeding techniques need to be approved more quickly. It is important that this is done gradually and that existing cultivation systems are maintained until good alternatives are available. ‘
EKO Holland’s chairman, René Cruijsen, also calls the initially high European ambition for organic farming ‘unrealistic’. ‘Politics should focus mainly on the demand for organic products. The government can play an important role in informing consumers about the added value of ecology. If the demand is there, there will be supply and the area will increase. Whether the area should be organic 15, 25 or 60 percent is less important. It’s about taking a step towards more sustainable food production. ‘
War in Ukraine
Critics of the bioplan point to the risk of food shortages from the war in Ukraine. Switching to organic will cost more land and give lower yields per hectare. According to Cruijsen, the picture that exists about this is seriously flawed. According to him, the production in organic milk production does not have to be much lower. ‘An organic milk producer also achieves a production of 8,000 to 9,000 kilos of milk per. cow per year. They are simply top farmers who are no inferior to their usual counterparts.
The chairman of EKO Holland points out that food shortages should not only be seen on the production side. »Also look at food waste. 30 percent of the food produced is thrown away. There’s a lot to pick up there. ‘
Difficult task for Holland
The chain organization Bionext is enthusiastic about Brussels’ biological ambition. For the Netherlands, 25 percent had become a difficult task, but for France, Germany and Denmark, according to director Michaël Wilde, it would have been possible. However, the market must be in ‘place one, two and three’, he says. “If we want to convert a quarter of the agricultural area in the EU to organic, then the consumer must definitely be involved. It is a prerequisite for realizing a higher price for organic farmers and therefore a good reward. ‘
De Wilde hopes that the Netherlands’ national strategic plan will stimulate sales of organic products. »The price differences between organic and conventional are getting smaller. Currently, 70 percent of consumers think ecology is too expensive, but it should be reduced. It is up to the politicians and the government to do something about that price perception. They need to explain the value of sustainable food. ‘
Organic growth continues
It looks like 2021 was another record year for organic food sales in the EU. In the corona year 2020, sales in the 27 member states increased by 15 percent to 44.9 billion euros. The final figure for last year is not yet known, but major organic markets such as Germany and Austria have again reported rising organic consumption. The organic market benefits from the growth in online sales and more attention to local and low-packaging products and plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products.