Debate on organic farming in EU heats up

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the
European Association of Consumers (AEC) and the Dutch Bureau of
Food Trade (CBL) called on the EU to boost organic farming.
They presented a study on how to increase organic food
production in the EU to 10% by 2006, by reducing VAT and
introducing levies on the use of pesticides and
fertilizers.

The proposal seeks to influence the Action Plan for organic
farming that the Commission started preparing in February.
The EEB argues that organic food production is better for
the environment and health because it uses less pesticides,
fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics. The lower yields of
organic farming could be offset by the set-aside system,
practised under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),
according to the proponents of organic farming.

The study proposes the following
economic instruments to stimulate organic farming in
Europe, and to increase consumer demand by reducing the
prices:

  • 0% tariff of Value Added Tax (VAT) on organic
    products to enhance the attractiveness of organic
    products in the market;
  • Pesticide and fertiliser levies to reduce the
    competitive advantage of conventional farming;
  • Cross compliance to put environmental conditions on
    direct payments that farmers receive under the market
    regulations;
  • Modulation to reduce the amount of direct payments
    farmers receive under the market regulation with a
    certain fixed percentage (maximum 20%).

The study, entitled “Stimulating Organic
Farming in the EU with Economic and Fiscal Instruments”,
estimates that an annual sum of 2.5 billion euro is
required to ensure that 10% of the EU area is farmed
organically by 2006. This money could be raised by
introducing levies on pesticides and fertilisers, and
through cross compliance and modulation.

 

Positions

Commenting the EEB's proposal, Mr Risto Volanen, Secretary
General of
COPA-COGECA

, EU association of agricultural organisations, stated that
"organic farming is certainly a positive complement and
useful part of agriculture which responds to specific
consumers' needs. Organic production methods provide for a
series of opportunities both for consumers and farmers."

He stressed that "all consumers have the
right to sustainable production and farmers are willing to
respond to this expectation. Therefore the promotion of
organic farming should be done in such a way that
mainstream consumers and mainstream agriculture serving
them would not be punished. This would happen if costs and
prices of mainstream farming were increased by a levy on
pesticides and fertilisers. The same would happen in the
case of capping EU support for beef and cereals production.
Sustainable levels of farm inputs or beef production is to
be decided on a scientific basis without measures that
would go to the detriment of the mainstream consumers."

COPA and COGECA are willing to consider
on a global basis a cut of the VAT rate as an instrument of
decreasing consumer prices, added Mr Volanen. "In this
case, an essential point should be the consideration of the
interests of all consumers including those interested in
organic farming. In particular, consumers needing financial
relief for their everyday food should be taken into
consideration. Farmers are willing to promote organic
production on a market driven basis. This would meet the
real consumer needs. A market driven approach would also
avoid artificial increase of supply, which would only
distort the market conditions to the detriment of organic
producer s," he warned.

 

Background

Interest in organic farming has increased significantly in
the light of the various food crises around Europe.
Following outbreaks such as BSE and foot-and-mouth disease,
as well as consumers' distrust of genetically modified
produce, modern agrochemicals and intensive farming methods
have come under attack and requests for more organic
farming practices have surfaced.

Agriculture Ministers from 13 European
countries called for the creation of a European action plan
for the development of organic farming and food within two
years in a declaration, adopted in Copenhagen in May 2001
(

see EURACTIV of 17
May 2001

).

 

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe

Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Click here!