On the back of growing concern over the target for 25% of EU farmland to be farmed organically by 2030, EU Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski has lent the plan his support and stressed it is achievable. But farmers are still concerned that, as it stands, supply may well outstrip demand, which they say could “kill” the sector.
The target is one of several set by the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy.
Speaking at the World Food Convention on Thursday (25 June), Wojciechowski addressed these concerns, saying he was aware that it was one of the most contentious targets in the strategy and that farmers are particularly concerned about it.
However, he stressed that the target was achievable and highlighted the example of Austria as a member state that already farms nearly 25% of its agricultural land organically and, despite this, appears not to have a problem of an excess of organic food in Austrian markets.
He also underlined the importance of promoting and developing the EU organic market, maintaining that there is a large potential for increasing public demand and promoting the market in the EU, especially in certain member states.
He used the example of his home country, Poland, which he said spent an average of only €3 euro per capita on organic food compared to €300 per capita in Denmark.
Although he said that farmers will not be pressured into changing their practices via administrative means, he said organic farming will be incentivised using financial support and other instruments, highlighting that there is a significantly higher CAP budget offered currently than was put forward in the 2018 proposal.
The F2F strategy specifies that the Commission will put forward an action plan on organic farming, designed to help member states “stimulate both supply and demand for organic products,” and will work to ensure consumer trust and uptake through, for example, promotion campaigns and green public procurement.
“It is necessary to increase this kind of farming,” Wojciechowski said, adding that it is better both for “the environment and for human health”.
But for Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of farmers association COPA-COGECA, the target runs a real risk of having a detrimental effect on the sector.
In a recent press conference, Pesonen said he agreed with the organic initiative in principle, but stressed this must be thoroughly considered in order to ensure the economic viability of the sector.
“Co-operatives are struggling with more supply than demand,” he said and cautioned that, unless supply increases in line with demand, the target runs a “high risk of killing the sector”.
“Without a corresponding increase in consumer awareness and demand, the 25% target will destroy the viability of the sector,” he said.
Likewise, in response to Wojciechowski’s comments, Stefanie Sabet, managing director and head of the Brussels branch of the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries, also stressed the need to respect supply and demand, highlighting that we “cannot dictate this” and that generating sustainable demand for food is a “process”.
Jan Plagge, president of EU organics association IFOAM, said that organic farming is a “successful economic model for farmers with proven benefits for the environment,” and making it “a cornerstone of a future EU sustainable food system is the right decision”.
The organic sector has recently experienced a boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, with higher sales of organic produce reported across various member states. But how this will change consumer demand for organic produce in the long-run remains to be seen.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]