ORGANIC ACTION PLAN HEARING
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
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-
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
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.