Agrifood Brief: Organics sector in line for a not-so organic boost

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26 - Organic action plan, nutriscore, salted butter

 

This week: the EURACTIV agrifood team explores what can be expected from the upcoming Organic Action Plan, due to be published on 24 March, and we speak about the latest chapter in the longstanding saga on front of pack nutritional labelling

 

It’s safe to say that the EU is somewhat of a frontrunner in the (literal) field of organics.

Europe has one of the largest shares of organic in the world, responsible for nearly 14 million hectares out of just over 70 million hectares of organic agricultural land cultivated worldwide in 2018.

Although they are far from dominating the sector, organically cultivated areas made up around 8% of total EU agricultural land in 2018, compared to just over 1.5% of land cultivated organically worldwide.

But if all goes according to plan, this figure is set to triple over the next few years.

As outlined in the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, the aim is for 25% of agricultural land in the EU to be farmed organically by 2030.

While the ambition is admirable, the question on everyone’s lips is how this will be translated into action.

And that is where the EU’s ‘Organic Action Plan’ comes into play.

Long overdue and eagerly awaited, the plan, expected to be released this coming week, aims to finally put this question to rest and provide a clear roadmap to achieving this target.

According to a recent draft seen by EURACTIV, this involves a three-pronged plan of attack, which spans increasing demand and increasing production as well as improving the contribution of organic farming to sustainability.

“The action plan aims at boosting the production and consumption of organic products, while enhancing the role of organics in the fight against climate change and for a sustainable resource management,” the draft reads.

It adds that the organic sector needs to be provided with “both legal and non-legal tools” to do this and supported by instruments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The biggest question mark so far has been over how this increase in production will be met by a corresponding increase in consumer demand.

“The increase of area under organic farming with all its positive benefits is not going to happen without an equally increased demand for organic products,” the draft bluntly points out.

It outlines several ways to do this, from promoting the EU’s organic logo to working to ensure a higher level of consumer trust in organic products.

Other tools the plan outlines include the possibility for member states to lower VAT for organic produce.

But one notable part of the strategy is its plan for green public procurement (GPP).

Public authorities carry a lot of clout when it comes to purchasing power, and the idea of GPP is to use that influence to only support environmentally friendly goods and services.

One way to do this, the draft suggests, is by integrating organic products into, for example, school meals and workplace canteens, which it says would “offer a significant opportunity to increase organic consumption and production”.

This includes prioritising organic food in the EU’s school scheme, which supports food distribution to millions of schoolchildren across the EU.

The idea isn’t new. Copenhagen, for example, has already become the first city to reach 100% organic public canteens, while Vienna is also a frontrunner in this area.

But, as the draft points out and then promptly fails to address, several countries currently do not prioritise organic products, mainly because they are often more expensive than their non-organic counterparts.

Of course, increased demand is one thing, but the crucial point here is to stimulate long-term demand.

Because, while instruments aimed at boosting consumer demand can come and go, farmers cannot simply change their production practices at the drop of a hat to suit the whim of the consumer. A transition from chemical to organic farming takes years of dedication, hard work, and investment.

But, as outlined above, the plan addresses more than just the demand side. It also focuses on upping investments in knowledge and innovation in the sector, sorely needed if the EU is to reach its organics goal, to be fostered through the European Innovation Partnership AGRI and Agriculture Knowledge and Innovation System (AKIS).

The role of the CAP is also another element of the plan that is set to cause some controversy.

Mixing a Commission strategy with EU law, the EU’s farming subsidy programme is set to provide support in the form of “technical assistance, exchange of best practices, sharing best innovation in organics as well as the full use of eco-schemes”.

It also notes that member states are “invited to set national values in their CAP strategic plan for these Green Deal targets and, based on European averages and trends, should focus on strengthening surfaces and increasing the percentage or encouraging positive trends”.

It added that they will have to respond to the “evidence-based needs identified by the Commission when drafting their national strategic plans”.

So, the sector is in line for a boost, but it seems that this will happen anything but organically.

(N.F.)

Agrifood news this week

Portugal optimistic CAP reform talks could see breakthrough soon

Portugal is optimistic an agreement can soon be reached on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the country’s Agriculture Minister Maria do Céu Antunes told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview. EURACTIV’s agrifood team has more.

Scientists renew support for Nutri-Score amid a ‘Mediterranean’ uprising
A group of scientists have made another plea for making the colour-coded nutrition label mandatory for the entire EU, while southern EU countries vehemently oppose it, saying it puts the traditional Mediterranean diet at a disadvantage. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.

EU farmers boss: Commission leaving agri sector to wait like ‘animals for slaughter’
By choosing to impose green objectives without undertaking a comprehensive impact assessment, the European Commission is leaving the EU farming sector vulnerable and waiting like “animals to be slaughtered”, according to the head of the EU farmers association. Natasha Foote has more.

African farmers say they must be trained for Farm to Fork
African farmers fear being left alone in making sense of and applying environmental standards required by the European Union’s new food policy, said the voice of Kenya’s horticulture producers, who warned that without help, the new rules could jeopardise trade with Europe. Learn more.

News from the bubble

CAP corner:  Next week is set to be an important week for negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, with discussions ongoing during an AGRIFISH Council this week, mainly focusing on the key sensitive areas of negotiations such as the definition of an active farmer and social conditionality. The meeting will also focus on phytosanitary issues, including a proposal from the Council to the Commission for a study to be undertaken to investigate the EU situation with regards to biological control agents and how regulation can be harmonised on this to encourage uptake in member states.There will also be the long awaited so-called ‘super trilogue’ this week, which will see all three rapporteurs convened in an attempt to reach a conclusion on the CAP reform. See here for background.

Food waste: Commissioner for health and food safety, Stella Kyriakides, addressed the 10th meeting of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste this week, where she underscored that tackling food loss and waste is “crucial in order to achieve a sustainable food system” and member states and businesses should make such actions an “integral part of their recovery plans”. During the meeting, the Commission provided an update on flagship actions to reduce food waste under the Farm to Fork Strategy, such as work on food waste measurement and the setting of EU-level targets for food waste reduction as well as activities related to date marking.

Support scheme: The European Commission has approved a €1 million Luxembourgish scheme to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) active in the pig production sector in the context of the coronavirus outbreak, approved under the State aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the public support will take the form of direct grants of up to €40,000 per farm.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

SPAIN
Spain is the “vegetable garden of Europe” and the sector remains competitive thanks to a combination of quality, innovation and meeting consumer demands, the Spanish Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, told EURACTIV’s partner EFE agro in a video interviewRead the story here.

POLAND
A temporary ban has been introduced by Belarus authorities following reported cases of African swine fever in Poland. According to Tuesday’s statement of the Belarus Agriculture Ministry, the ban covers live pigs, their semen and pork and pork products, including raw materials of animal origin or animal feed, unless they have been heat-treated. (Mateusz Kucharczyk | EURACTIV.pl)

GERMANY 
German agriculture has met its 2020 climate targets set by the Climate Protection Act. The emissions data, presented by the country’s environment ministry on Tuesday (16 March), showed that agricultural emissions fell by 2.2% to 66 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalents, below its target of 70 million metric tonnes. Agriculture minister Julia Klöckner was pleased with the results, saying it shows that “agriculture is living up to its responsibility for climate protection.” German Farmers’ Association General Secretary Bernard Krüsken echoed similar sentiments in a press release, writing “The current climate data underlines the commitment of farmers to climate and resource protection.”  (Sarah Lawton |EURACTIV.de)

FRANCE
The French Council of State has judged the temporary reauthorisation of neonicotinoids in the beetroot sector to be in line with French and European law. The use of neonicotinoids has been forbidden in France since 2018. However, as the beetroot sector was devastated by jaundice – a virus passed to the plants by aphids – last year, the government has recently backpaddled, authorising exceptions in case of extraordinary circumstances with a new law in December. French agricultural ministers, as well as those of the ‘ecological transition’, issued a decree in early February reauthorising the use of neonicotinoids in the beetroot sector for the duration of 120 days. Three associations have seized the Council of State in an attempt to see this controversial decree quashed. But in view of a new “massive infestation” by virus-carrying aphids this spring, as well as a “lack of other reasonable means to master the danger”, the exemption granted by the said decree, is deemed lawful by the Council which has decided to reject the demand. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)

ITALY
Italy’s Apulia region is on a war footing with the neighbour Campania, as its local government has filed a request to grant peeled tomato of Naples the status of protected geographical indication (IGP). However, tomatoes are mostly processed in Campania, while 90% of the national production of these ‘long’ tomato variety comes from Foggia province, in Apulia. “We will not step back,” said Apulia’s councillor for agriculture Donato Pentassuglia, adding they are preparing the dossier to oppose the request. (EURACTIV.com)

UK
The UK government’s 10-week consultation on gene editing came to a close this week. The consultation is thought likely to open the UK’s doors to the technology, which has been welcomed by the country’s National Farmers Union (NFU). In their response in the consultation, the farmers’ union outlined that they “believe new precision breeding techniques, such as gene editing, could protect crops and animals from pests and disease, help deliver net zero and allow farmers to produce more home-grown food.”  NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw said: “The underlying principle of this consultation is that some new breeding techniques such as gene editing are not the same scientifically as genetic modification (GM) and should therefore not be regulated in the same way, an approach already used in several countries around the world and one the NFU supports.” (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND
The latest Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures released on goods exports and imports in January 2021 show the “immediate impact” of Brexit on trade, according to Fianna Fáil. This includes a reduction of the total imports of food and live animals by €225 million (-35%) to €421 million in January 2021. Exports of food and live animals decreased by €140 million (-16%) to €736 million. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

Events

22-23 March – There is an AGRIFISH Council meeting where EU agriculture and fisheries ministers will meet to discuss fishing opportunities for stocks shared with the United Kingdom, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and measures against plant pests. See here for details.

22-26 March – The European Network for Rural Development (ENRD), in close cooperation with the European Commission, is organising a virtual event – ‘Rural Vision Week: Imagining the future of Europe’s rural areas’ between 22 and 26 March 2021. See here for details.

24 March – There is an event on the contribution of the agrifood sector to Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. See here for more information.

24 March – There is a webinar on the use and potential reauthorisation of glyphosate. See here for details.

26 March – A ‘super trilogue’ will take place between all three rapporteurs in the European parliament to seek a breakthrough in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) talks. See here for background.

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