By Oliver Moore
German coalition government talks have provisionally agreed a 20% organic land-area target by 2030.
The coalition is likely to be formed between the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and SDP (Social Democratic Party) and the CDU-affiliated CSU (Christian Social Union).
The SDP will vote on the overall coalition package in the coming days.
Currently, Germany has 7.5% of its farming land under organic management. 20% of the total utilisable land area would result in 3.4 million hectares farmed organically.
The market for organic products in Germany is approaching €10bn. However Germany also has the largest number of organic food importers in the EU, as demand outstrips supply.
A number of other agri-food elements have been brought into the negotiations, on food quality, animal welfare and
glyphosate. Plans to reduce sugar, fat and salt in food were announced. A raft of environmentally sound practices for the entire farming sector has also been provisionally agreed.
A new animal welfare label will be announced for 2019, which will include reduced antibiotic use and the support of alternatives to piglet castration.
Glyphosate will be phased out “as soon as possible”.
With both major parties in this coalition — and bearing in mind that the Greens are not even involved — it seems clear that a move towards higher animal welfare, food quality and environmental standards is becoming even more mainstream in the EU’s powerhouse economy and biggest population base.
However, these targets, as Bioland’s president Jan Plagge point out, though welcome, are not legally binding in any way.
This language of a glyphosate phase out ‘ASAP’ mirrors the recently fudged language of Emmanuel Macron in France on the glyphosate issue.
ASAP depends on whether the aim is to find a different herbicide to replace glyphosate, to try to usher in different approaches to farming — the many little hammers approach of agro-ecology regarding weed and pest management — or if easy targets are aimed for first.
Easy targets would include schools, public parks, roadsides and other places where glyphosate is currently used (France has banned its use in all public places already, except sports stadiums and graveyards).
A French agricultural research agency, INRA, presented a report to the Environmental and Agricultural ministries last year, where it argued that it is possible to phase out glyphosate in nearly all farming systems. They noted the following four exceptions under current farming systems, as pinch points in phasing out glyphosate.
The first mentioned was conservation agriculture. This is currently only 4% of total cereal land in France, but, nonetheless, it is difficult to do conservation agriculture without glyphosate, at least in its no till format. (In this column, we have featured Tom Fouhy from Cork, who practices minimum tillage, but not no tillage, organically).
Next was ‘terraces and stony fields’. In the French context, this refers to vineyards. The final two were vegetable seed
production and the linen production chain.
They recommended glyphosate-free marketing initiatives, to help develop this market. They also emphasised the importance of redesigning farming systems to be better able to cope with fewer agri-industrial inputs.
Previous research in France had noted that huge reductions in biocide use could be ushered in without reducing productivity, as the substances were being overused.
France also has a biocide reduction initiative called ecophyto, which means biocide sellers have to promote alternatives, such as mechanical, biological or other management approaches. There are also set to be stricter rules in 2019 on home gardener’s use of biocides in France.
There are, increasingly, GM-free, pesticide-free, animal welfare (from slaughter free milk to cows-kept-with-calves cheese) and other labels emerging in various European markets.
Though by no means perfect, organic integrates many of these elements, and more, in its standards anyway. If only farmers in Ireland could join the organic farming scheme and capitalise on these new markets.