EU agriculture ministers gave their green light for the EU organic action plan on Monday (19 July) but warned that measures must be taken to ensure that supply matches demand, including via public procurement schemes for schools and public canteens.
The action plan aims to provide a clear road map to achieving the ambitious target included in the EU’s flagship Farm to Fork food policy to see 25% of agricultural land farmed organically by 2030.
The plan outlines a three-pronged approach to meeting the goal, which spans increasing demand and increasing production as well as improving the contribution of organic farming to sustainability.
This backing of the plan was welcomed by EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who noted that there had previously been debate among ministers over the feasibility of this 25% target.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday (19 July), the Commissioner said this endorsement showed that member states want to be “actively involved in implementing this plan,” highlighting that EU countries have “good ways to contribute in achieving these targets,” including via their organic farming action plans.
Although these plans are voluntary for member states, a number of EU countries have already started work on their plans, while others have committed to prepare them in the near future.
“This is a very positive signal because the development of organic farming is one of the key priorities of the Commission and one of the most important parts of the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] reform and the green architecture in this reform,” the Commissioner said.
Likewise, Slovenian agriculture minister Jože Podgoršek, current chair of the AGRIFISH Council, hailed the endorsement of the plan, which was one of the priorities of the Slovenian rotating EU Council presidency, calling it a very important tool for organic farming in the EU.
Increasing demand ‘most difficult obstacle’
However, despite its positive reception, several ministers warned that work must be done to ensure that any increase in supply is met with a corresponding rise in demand.
“One of our most important concerns is to ensure that there’s still a market approach,” Austrian minister Elisabeth Köstinger said, highlighting that considerable work is required to ensure organic production is able to find a market.
“Often one gets the impression that organic farming is seen just from an environmental perspective. Of course, farmers also needed to be able to generate an income,” she pointed out, stressing that public authorities “should and must” create incentives.
French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie added that “if we want to achieve ambitious goals, then we have to make sure that supply and demand tie up properly”, while his Spanish counterpart, Luis Planos, warned that increasing demand is the “most difficult obstacle in the chain”.
“It’s clear that producers bear greater costs for organic production and that has to be passed on in the market prices,” he said.
One way to achieve this is by strengthening green public procurement programmes to promote the uptake of organic in public canteens, including in hospitals and schools. This already features in the organic action plan, but ministers reiterated how instrumental this is.
Estonian agriculture minister Urmas Kruuse underscored the need to use public procurement to increase demand on the market, particularly when it comes to serving up organic in schools, while Slovakia’s minister Samuel Vlčan stressed the need to promote the availability of organic products in public and school catering.
“Every EU citizen should have equal access to healthy and organic food we should pay attention to promotion of organic products which will lead to the increase in demand and consumer confidence,” the minister added.
Likewise, Beate Kasch, state secretary at the German federal ministry of food and agriculture, welcomed the focus on consumption of organic products beyond households, something she sees has a “great potential to expand”.
“We want to see the use of organic products outside the domestic setting, in particular, schools, hospitals, kindergartens, and in public institutions, because in addition to production, we also have to boost demand,” she said.
Pointing out that Finland was the first country to offer free school meals, minister Jari Leppä said they will develop school meals by further by increasing the amount of organic production, and that the country is also looking at increases in other public catering service.
Short supply chains should also be promoted, Lithuanian minister Kęstutis Navickas added, so that food, including organic products, can reach kindergartens, schools and other public bodies without intermediaries.
In this way, “we are actively contributing to ensuring that our citizens, especially the little ones, have healthy and safe food,” he said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]