Hearing on Organic Food and Farming

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22nd January 2004 - Brussels

What do Organic Farmers expect from Policy Makers?
Francis Blake, President IFOAM EU Group

It is a great honour to be standing here on behalf of the IFOAM EU Group at this
Hearing. It is also a vindication of so much of the work of the organic movement
over the last several years.

The action plan is coming at a critical time, not only coinciding with the
implementation of the 2003 CAP reform, not only because organic farming is facing
its own challenges and growing pains as it steps into the mainstream, but also and
in particular because the strategic importance of organic farming and its huge
potential to deliver on all the objectives of the CAP is now beginning to be formally

My comments are based on the IFOAM EU Group’s more detailed submission on
the organic action plan, which is available from several EU Group board members
for those who wish to receive it.

First, I should say that the IFOAM EU Group represents all IFOAM members in the
EU (including accession and EFTA countries) and this includes not only farmers but
also processors, traders, retailers, certifiers, advisors, researchers and of course
consumers – in all some 350 member organisations. And this exemplifies one of
the strengths of the organic movement: that it connects producers with consumers,
and links the whole production chain together, in a way that conventional agriculture
has increasingly lost, to its cost, over the last several decades.

Today I am asked to speak on behalf of organic farmers but I wish to emphasise
the importance of a holistic approach – in other words treating the whole food
production chain as a whole – an approach which is at the heart of organic farming.
As such these comments can also be taken as on behalf of the whole organic
I start with some general headlines before going into more specific areas. We want
   Organic farming is recognised as a different, independent and strategically
   important tool in EU agricultural policy. Progress is being made but the action
   plan is an opportunity to take the next steps.
   Consequent upon this recognition, we want that words are turned into real
   action, ie investment in and development of organic food and farming,
   proportionate to its potential, rather than to its current size.
   A platform for strengthened dialogue between the authorities and the organic
   sector. We both need eachother and with these developments, we will both
   need eachother even more.
   Coordination between the EU organic action plan and the national organic
   action plans (and pressure on those member states who have not developed a
   plan to do so) so that the various plans at the different levels work together and
   complement eachother.
   Sufficient funding to implement the plan and adequate means for evaluation and
   following up. This goes without saying but it still needs to be said.

Turning now to more specific areas and remembering the holistic approach, organic
farming can help to reconnect the public with agriculture – something that is of vital
importance for the future of European agriculture. If so much of the public has lost
trust in agriculture, this needs to be reversed. We want to show people how food is
really produced, but more important, we want food in Europe to be produced in
ways that the public will find acceptable - that will encourage farmers and others in
the food chain to be open and transparent. This cannot be done without a
wholesale change to organic.

1. We need the means for educating the consumer and for creating an informed

        with general public education and information campaigns (also in schools);
        with targeted marketing for specific product sectors, in specific regions, etc;
      organic demonstration farms, for both consumers and farmers – seeing is
      also building on the synergies with rural development and regional products.

   All these will naturally stimulate an increasing demand but we cannot expect
   organic to be only market-led just yet. Many critics of organic food claim that it
   will never climb out of the niche because of market resistance to higher prices.
   But why are prices higher? Of course there are higher costs associated with the
   smaller scale and the general lack of development of organic agriculture.
   However the primary reason is because the price of conventional food does not
   reflect the real cost of production due to the distorting effects of the subsidy
   regime and the externalisation of conventional farming’s costs.

   So if we really want to get strategic about organic farming, we have to start
   looking at bringing real market forces to bear on conventional farming in a way
   that is already effectively the case for organic. And until that time organic
   farming needs special treatment – one of those is support (dealt with below) and
   another is significant resources for information and education, so that ‘market-
   led’ is supported by ‘information-led’.

2. Of central importance is to safeguard the trust of consumers through fair and
   clear standards set by a transparent and inclusive process and implemented
   through rigorous and consistent inspection and certification. Nobody would
   disagree with that, I am sure, but it all easier said than done and the key issues
   still to address are:

      Adaptability of the standards in the EU regulation to allow for local conditions
      (and therefore local consumer acceptability).
      Standards that strike the right balance between being simple and flexible on
      the one hand and being comprehensive and rigorous on the other.
      Inspection and control systems that really target the areas of risk and
      challenge to organic integrity without penalising the smallest, often dedicated
      organic operators, with unnecessarily onerous bureaucratic obligations.
      Importing and equivalence requirements that are workable and can be
      consistently applied on an international basis - and here I have to mention
      IFOAM accreditation as being the only such system currently in operation
      internationally. This is a vital area in which we need to strengthen the public-
      private cooperation.

3. And then there is the threat from genetic engineering – an own goal for an
   industry that has lost its connection with its customer, if ever there was one.
   Organic consumers, and indeed organic farmers, want nothing of GMOs and
   whilst this is now reflected in the organic regulation, we are horrified to see that
   the discussion seems to be centring on how much contamination can be called
   ‘nothing’. It cannot be stressed too much the necessity of protecting organic
   farming from unwanted genetic pollution. . The Commission and Member States
   must surely, as a first priority, protect the freedom of choice of both consumers
   and farmers (not just organic) by ensuring:

      The legal right for non-GM farmers to raise and harvest crops un-
      contaminated by GMOs and enabling them to do so in practice.
      The owner of the GMOs are fully responsible for their crops and for
      preventing spreading of their GMOs.
      Threshold levels for seeds that are set at the lowest detectable level (0.1%)
      so that at least the building blocks of agronomy are clean.
      Effective exclusion zones that really assure no contamination.
      Backed up by strict liability so that those who are polluted are compensated

4. Now it is recognised that organic farming is of strategic importance for delivering
   the objectives of the CAP. Also, unsurprisingly, it is at the cutting edge of
   sustainable agriculture. For both of these reasons the action plan needs to
   address the issue of research:

      Research into the further development and refinement of organic farming
      needs to be proportionate to its importance and its potential, not to its current
      Those who are evaluating organic research projects need to have an
      understanding of organic systems and the sometimes rather different
      research methodologies employed in organic research.
      Organic farming should have its own dedicated research programme and
      budget, an advantage accorded, perversely, to biotechnology. This should
      be a commitment in the 7th Framework Programme.
      Examples of strands within such a dedicated programme would be whole
      ‘organic food chain’ research and long term farming system development
      research, including what we might call ‘post-GM’ plant and animal breeding
      techniques (these are costly and are currently being squeezed out by the
      concentration on GM research).

5. All of the above will place increasing obligations and challenges on the
   infrastructure of the organic sector and their representative organisations. It is
   well recognised that businesses which grow at more than 25% a year are
   invariably operating in crisis management mode. The organic sector has been
   growing at some 30% a year for the last several years and the expectation is
   that it will have to continue like this if it is to fulfil the potential being asked of it.
   These organisations, together with the producer associations, advisory networks
   and extension/demonstration services must be supported with adequate
   capacity building so they can meet these challenges and help to deliver the
   strategic growth efficiently and creatively:
      supporting organic advice and extension services, including information
      exchange networks between farmers’ groups, and especially using
      experienced organic farmers as ‘extensionists’;
      marketing and infrastructure development for organic farmers’ organisations,
      including novel forms of cooperation through the food chain;
      facilitating the development of innovative local or regional marketing and
      direct sales;
      developing enlightened public procurement policies that favour local
      purchasing for health and environmental benefit;
      capacity building for the organic representative organisations, who provide
      both the glue that binds the movement together and the spark that sets it
6. Lastly I have to say something about the 2003 CAP Reform. First of all we are
   very disappointed that the reforms did not include a clear frame for the organic
   action plan, as a recognition of the role of organic farming and as a base for
   funding the plan itself. However we do appreciate the steps taken towards
   decoupling by starting to strengthen support payments in the Second Pillar,
   even though the levels are still pitifully low. Actually we should talk about
   ‘recoupling’ support to farming systems that are sustainable, of which organic is
   the leading example, and much more emphasis should be put on this.

   Where targeted support for organic farming has been done well, it has been a
   success, both in increasing the number of organic farmers and in delivering agri-
   environmental objectives. But much of the support merely compensates for
   what organic farmers have lost from the First Pillar when they converted. Also
   the wide variation in the levels of organic support between different countries
   causes market distortions between countries and regions.

   So a more co-ordinated and strategic approach is needed:

      The introduction of a co-ordinated and obligatory support structure for
      conversion and on-going payments that recognise the social, environmental
      and animal welfare benefits delivered by organic farming to all the citizens of
      the EU (whether they buy organic food or not).
      We are concerned that the national envelopes will favour the conventional
      farming status quo by the way the new single farm payments will be set.
      Also required to inform this and other policies will be the official gathering of
      specific organic statistics by the EU services – we, and especially you as
      policy makers, will need to know what and how much is happening, where
      and when, and what have been the key influences (both positive and
      Longer term, modulation should be nearer 30% than 3% to give some
      serious funding to the Second Pillar, and EU co-financing of agri-
      environment measures should increase from the current 50 / 75% to 70 /
In conclusion, I think we all want decent, environmentally friendly, socially
responsible farming in the EU that produces good quality food, a thriving rural
communities and a healthy environment. In other words we all want organic.
Organic farmers want this too, without suffering competitive disadvantage. The
action plan provides a golden opportunity to lay these foundations.