Plenty of change in short political week

Jan Plagge, IFOAM EU board

A week is a long time in politics, even in the politics of agri-food in the EU. Last week, this column reported on the position IFOAM EU took on the proposed EU organic regulation.

Having previously been critical they finally came out and said that they could not support the proposed regulation. Since then the ground may have shifted decisively in their favour.

They released a statement on the 3rd December which “welcomes the announcement by DG Agriculture Commissioner Hogan to take a fresh look at the proposal.”

They added “The European Commission understood that they went too far with their legal proposal turning the whole sector upside down. IFOAM EU is looking forward to find constructive solutions for an ambitious framework for sustainable growth for organic production in Europe”, says Christopher Stopes, IFOAM EU president.

In general, IFOAM EU found that the rules were to become so strict and restrictive that large numbers may have had to leave the sector.

Echoing Commissioner Phil Hogan’s mantra of ‘jobs and growth’, Jan Plagge, IFOAM EU board member stated during last week’s hearing in the Parliament that “the proposal as it stands will lead to a huge loss of organic production in Europe and seriously undermine the EU’s growth and jobs agenda. If we want to achieve the common objective for sustainable growth of organic in the EU, we need a new proposal.”

IFOAM’s concerns have been outlined here in recent times and last week, so it’s interesting to see what Copa-Cogeca, which represents the overall agri-food sector in the EU had to say.

Speaking at the hearing, Chairman of Copa-Cogecas’ Organic Working Party Edouard Rousseau stressed “The EU organic sector is one of the fastest growing agriculture sectors providing 225, 000 farmers with a living. There has been a big increase in consumption of organic products recently yet there has been a slowdown in converting to organic’.

“To respond to demand and support the growth of the organic market, we therefore call to maintain mixed farms in the sector otherwise a ban will deters farmers from converting to organic farming or maintaining this specific production method”, he stressed.

Outlining key points, Mr Rousseau said “We also ask to maintain the use of conventional seed and plant reproductive material otherwise ending this from December 31 2021 will limit the range of varieties on offer to producers or make crop production impossible due to a lack of supply in some areas and limit the range of biodiversity. Parallel to this, ending the possibility to use non-organic animals for breeding purposes would lead to a dramatic fall in the supply of genetic material available to organic holdings and would therefore run counter to the principle of genetic diversity, which is nonetheless defended in organic farming.”

So that’s a preference for mixed organic and conventional farms as well as the continuation of conventional seed and breeding stock in organic.

Good for growth and jobs presumably, but not necessarily the consumer conception of what organic is.

And much like the ongoing retention of a small percentage of conventional feed for pigs, with extension after extension granted over the years, there is an argument that these opt outs hinder growth in certified organic supply.

This holds for seeds, breeding animals and feed: why develop these aspects of the organic sector when you can just buy conventional cheaper than organic would be?

It could be argued that what seems to be happening in organic is what happens for EU agri-food policy as a whole.

The EU citizen-consumer is paid lip service to, but fobbed off as naive when things get too technical. Technical is for Ag Ministers and farming organisations.

So the 45000 people who made submissions to the Commission really needn’t have bothered. Certified organic is playing by the big boy’s rules now.


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