Europe, our plate and organic farming in debate!

Monday February 8, 2016 in Aubenas (Ardèche), the information office of the European Parliament in Marseille organized a citizens' debate on the evolution of organic farming regulations. The aim was to answer this thorny question: how can the common agricultural policy develop organic farming and meet the expectations of consumer citizens of the 28 countries forming the European community.

RLet us call for some data to situate organic agricultural production in Europe in relation to so-called “conventional” agriculture. Initially a niche, the European organic market represents 22 billion euros per year and demand is constantly growing. In the European Union (EU), the areas cultivated organically are increasing on average by 500 hectares per year. However, the area cultivated in organic farming only represents 000% of usable agricultural land. If in France around 5,4% of land is cultivated organically, in Ardèche this figure rises to 5%. In the introduction of the evening, the president of Agrobio Ardèche, Jérôme Boulicault gave the figures for the Ardèche: 14 farmers working organically on 654% of Ardèche farms, in 15e position behind Drôme (17,07% of organic surfaces).

Mr. Jean-Pierre Constant, mayor of Aubenas, welcoming the speakers and the public underlined the Ardèche terroir conducive to organic cultivation and the municipality's efforts to develop organic, particularly in the school canteen where 70% of the products are organic. A “terroir” which has moreover traveled in numbers to participate in this citizen debate; the number of chairs initially planned had to be doubled! Hervé Barruhet, journalist at l'Avenir Agricole de l'Ardèche and moderator of the debate, recalled the reason for this evening: the EU's proposal to modify European regulations on organic farming in order to meet the demands of stakeholders in the sector. (farmers, processors, businesses… and consumers, whether citizens or communities).

In order to answer questions from farmers, industry players, local elected officials or ordinary citizens, three MEPs were present:
Eric Andrieu, rapporteur for the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament on the new European regulation of organic farming under discussion.
Michel Dantin, Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats)
Michèle Rivasi, Group of the Greens / European Free Alliance

An organic farmer from Drôme and member of the network CORABIO, David Peyremorte, represented the profession.

Not all questions have always been adequately answered. This was the case for the three questions highlighting agroecology or permaculture, ancestral techniques put forward in recent years. These can make it possible to feed the planet thanks to these yields (on 1000 m² it is possible to produce as much as on 1 Ha in conventional agriculture) and limit the production of CO² (in conventional agriculture 7 fossil kcal are needed to produce 1 kcal of food, with agroecology 1 kcal of energy produces 20 kcal of food) INRA, which has defended tooth and nail industrial agriculture for the last fifty years, is timidly starting to take an interest in these techniques.

Michèle Rivasi underlined the importance of developing organic farming in the face of endocrine disruptors such as pesticides used in industrial agriculture. " We know the consequences She said, and " there must be cohesion with COP 21 »She continued« by moving towards 100% organic farming ". No GMOs, healthy products, short or local circuits, but also social progress so that farmers and consumers are winners in terms of living well as well as being.

The basics have been laid, but how do we move European regulations forward? The 28 member countries of the EU do not all have the same vision of organic farming. The French are very attached to the notion of terroir, territory while the Anglo-Saxons will look at the finality or that Holland wants to cultivate outside the soil ... The mix (or proximity) with traditional agriculture that can induce chemical pollution is also a problem. Will the polluter that is the chemical industry compensate the farmer in the event of an attack on an organic plot? The three MEPs explaineds the difficulties in arriving at a regulation which must lead to a community consensus. This revision process may seem very complex to people who are not familiar with the functioning of the European institutions. In addition, until now, organic farming depended on European directives, each state could adapt them. It is now a matter of establishing regulations which are binding on all EU member states.

Objectives and principles of the revision of European regulations

“The regulation should not only deal with the principles, but also the objectives of organic farming, processing and distribution. These general objectives should consist in particular of:

respecting natural systems and cycles and maintaining and improving the health of soil, water, plants and animals, as well as the balance between them;

the establishment of a management of biological processes according to methods which: i) preserve the long-term fertility of the soils; ii) help achieve a high level of biodiversity; iii) contribute to a non-toxic environment; iv) use energy and water responsibly; v) meet high standards of animal welfare. "(Extract from the Committee's report at 1st reading)

The aim is to develop the sector while avoiding fraud, but also to impose the same specifications on imported products (outside the EU). It is necessary to harmonize and develop organic without going towards an “industrial” organic when consumer demand is increasing. It is multiplied by 4 while the production is just multiplied by 2. Michel Dantin reminded several times that organic must be the result of a local system, a territory or even a terroir, as opposed to "Industrialization" by large surfaces of the organic product which has been able to travel several thousand kilometers.

The new regulations should limit supply distances and facilitate local responses to calls for tenders concerning, for example, municipal canteens. To a question from a mayor emphasizing the difficulties during calls for tenders concerning the local supply of organic products, Eric Andrieu replied that the European Parliament wishes to introduce this question of collective catering in this revision project.

The three MEPs present highlighted the points on which they would not compromise during this revision of European regulations:

  • organic farming must be linked to the soil
  • annual checks must continue by a third party
  • specifications that are binding on everyone, including for non-EU products
  • the problem of diversity with industrial agriculture which must be resolved
  • lowest possible pollution thresholds and compensation for the farmer in the event of external pollution

To the question of a person on the transatlantic free trade agreement with the USA (TAFTA), the three deputies said their opposition and will vote against. This agreement presents a sticking point that are the IGP (protected geographical indication of a product) that the USA would like to see disappear, for the latter, we can produce a product anywhere and why not Roquefort made in Texas… This new European regulations must be protective (notion of territory linked to the products), facilitate the development and practice of organic farming, establish real coherence that is beneficial for farmers and consumers.

It will achieve this if the European CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) evolves in parallel in order to move towards a qualitative approach in which the work of organic farmers, agroecological or permaculture methods will have to be better recognized, without forgetting the social side linked to the organic approach, as David Peyremorte recalled during the debate. Our plate and our health will be better for it, at least if, for our part, as consumers we adopt an approach to eat organic, local and seasonal.

Nathanael Bechdolff

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