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European Green Deal: Commission presents actions to boost organic production

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The Commission has presented an Action Plan for the development of organic production. Its overall aim is to boost the production and consumption of organic products, to reach 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030, as well as to increase organic aquaculture significantly.

Organic production comes with a number of important benefits: organic fields have around 30% more biodiversity, organically farmed animals enjoy a higher degree of animal welfare and take less antibiotics, organic farmers have higher incomes and are more resilient, and consumers know exactly what they are getting thanks to the EU organic logo. The Action Plan is in line with the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies.

The Action Plan is designed to provide the already fast growing organic sector the right tools to achieve the 25% target. It puts forward 23 actions structured around three axes – boosting consumption, increasing production, and further improving the sustainability of the sector – to ensure a balanced growth of the sector.

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The Commission encourages member states to develop national organic action plans to increase their national share of organic farming. There are significant differences between member states regarding the share of agricultural land currently under organic farming, ranging from 0.5% to over 25%. The national organic action plans will complement the national CAP strategic plans, by setting out measures that go beyond agriculture and what is offered under the CAP.

Promote consumption

Growing consumption of organic products will be crucial to encourage farmers to convert to organic farming and thus increase their profitability and resilience. To this end, the Action Plan puts forward several concrete actions aimed at boosting demand, maintaining consumer trust and bringing organic food closer to citizens. This includes: informing and communicating about organic production, promoting the consumption of organic products, stimulating a greater use of organics in public canteens through public procurement and increasing the distribution of organic products under the EU school scheme. Actions also aim, for example, at preventing fraud, increasing consumers' trust and improving traceability of organic products. The private sector can also play a significant role by, for example, rewarding employees with ‘bio-cheques' they can use to purchase organic food.

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Increase production

Presently, about 8.5% of EU's agricultural area is farmed organically, and the trends show that with the present growth rate, the EU will reach 15-18% by 2030. This Action Plan provides the toolkit to make an extra push and reach 25%. While the Action Plan largely focuses on the “pull effect” of the demand side, the Common Agricultural Policy will remain a key tool for supporting the conversion. Currently, around 1.8% (€7.5 billion) of CAP is used to support organic farming. The future CAP will include eco-schemes which will be backed by a budget of €38-58bn, for the period 2023 – 2027, depending on the outcome of the CAP negotiations. The eco-schemes can be deployed to boost organic farming.

Beyond the CAP, key tools include organisation of information events and networking for sharing best practices, certification for groups of farmers rather than for individuals, research and innovation, use of blockchain and other technologies to improve traceability increasing market transparency, reinforcing local and small-scale processing, supporting the organisation of the food chain and improving animal nutrition.

To raise awareness on organic production, the Commission will organise an annual EU ‘Organic day' as well as awards in the organic food chain, to recognise excellence at all steps of the organic food chain. The Commission will also encourage the development of organic tourism networks through ‘biodistricts'. 'Biodistricts' are areas where farmers, citizens, tourist operators, associations and public authorities work together towards the sustainable management of local resources, based on organic principles and practices.

The Action Plan also notes that organic aquaculture production remains a relatively new sector but has a significant potential for growth. The upcoming new EU guidelines on the sustainable development of EU aquaculture, will encourage member states and stakeholders to support the increase in organic production in this sector.

Improve sustainability

Finally, it also aims to further improve organic farming's performance in terms of sustainability. To achieve this, actions will focus on improving animal welfare, ensuring the availability of organic seeds, reducing the sector's carbon footprint, and minimizing the use of plastics, water and energy.

The Commission also intends to increase the share of research and innovation (R&I) and dedicate at least 30% of the budget for research and innovation actions in the field of agriculture, forestry and rural areas to topics specific to or relevant for the organic sector.

The Commission will closely monitor progress through a yearly follow-up with representatives of the European Parliament, member states and stakeholders, through bi-annual progress reports and a mid-term review.

European Green Deal Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans said: “Agriculture is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss, and biodiversity loss is a major threat to agriculture. We urgently need to restore balance in our relationship with nature. This is not something farmers face alone, it involves the whole food chain. With this Action Plan, we aim to boost demand for organic farming, help consumers make informed choices, and support European farmers in their transition. The more land we dedicate to organic farming, the better the protection of biodiversity in that land and in surrounding areas.”

Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “The organic sector is recognised for its sustainable practices and use of resources, giving its central role in achieving the Green Deal objectives. To achieve the 25% of organic farming target, we need to ensure that demand drives the growth of the sector while taking into account the significant differences between each Member State's organic sectors. The organic Action Plan provides tools and ideas to accompany a balanced growth of the sector. The development will be supported by the Common Agricultural Policy, research and innovation as well as close cooperation with key actors at EU, national and local level.”

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “Organic farming provides many benefits to the environment, contributing to healthy soils, reducing pollution of air and water, and improving biodiversity. At the same time, with demand growing faster than production over the last decade, the organic sector brings economic benefits to its players. The new Organic farming Action Plan will be a crucial instrument to set the path to achieve the targets of 25% of agricultural area under organic farming and of significant increase of organic aquaculture enshrined in the Biodiversity and the Farm to Fork Strategies. In addition to that, the new Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture to be adopted by the Commission soon, will promote organic aquaculture further.”

Background

The Action Plan takes into account the results of the public consultation held between September and November 2020, which attracted a total of 840 replies from stakeholders and citizens.

It is an initiative announced in the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, published in May 2020. These two strategies were presented in the context of the European Green Deal to enable the transition to sustainable food systems and to tackle the key drivers of biodiversity loss.

In the recommendations to member states on their CAP strategic plans published in December 2020, the Commission included the target of a 25% organic area in the EU by 2030. member states are invited to set national values for this target in their CAP plans. Based on their local conditions and needs, member states will then explain how they plan to achieve this target using CAP instruments.

The Commission presented its proposals for the CAP reform in 2018, introducing a more flexible, performance and results-based approach that takes into account local conditions and needs, while increasing EU level ambitions in terms of sustainability. The new CAP is built around nine objectives, which is also the basis upon which EU countries design their CAP strategic plans.

More information

The Action Plan for the development of organic production

Questions and Answers: actions to boost organic production

Factsheet on the organic sector

Farm to fork Strategy

Biodiversity Strategy

Organic farming at a glance

Common Agricultural Policy

Agriculture

Agriculture: Commission approves new geographical indication from Hungary

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The Commission has approved the addition of ‘Szegedi tükörponty' from Hungary in the register of Protected Geographical Indications (PGI). ‘Szegedi tükörponty' is a fish of the carp species, produced in Szeged region, near Hungary's southern border, where a system of fish ponds was created. The alkaline water of the ponds gives the fish a particular vitality and resilience. The flaky, reddish, flavorsome flesh of the fish farmed in these ponds, and its fresh aroma with no side-tastes, can be directly attributed to the specific saline land.

The quality and flavour of the fish are directly influenced by the good oxygen supply at the lake bed in the fish ponds created on saline soil. The flesh of ‘Szegedi tükörponty' is high in protein, low in fat and very flavoursome. The new denomination will be added to the list of 1563 products already protected in the eAmbrosia database. More information online on quality products.

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Will MEPs bolster the Farm to Fork Strategy?

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This Thursday and Friday (9-10 September), the European Parliament’s AGRI and ENVI committees are voting on their reaction to the EU Farm to Fork Strategy. The European Parliament’s Agriculture (AGRI) and Environment (ENVI) committees are voting on their joint own-initiative report on the Farm to Fork Strategy, which sets out how the EU aims to make the food system “fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly”. The amendments to the report will be voted upon on Thursday.

Then, MEPs from both committees are expected to approve their joint Farm to Fork Strategy report on Friday and send it to plenary for a final vote scheduled for early October. The scientific evidence shows that the EU food system is currently not sustainable, and that major changes are needed in how we produce, trade and consume food if we are to respect our international commitments and planetary boundaries. The Farm to Fork Strategy, presented by the European Commission in 2020 as a central element of the European Green Deal, is a potential game-changer in this area. This is because it breaks through silos and brings together multiple policy initiatives that aim to make the food system more sustainable.

Nevertheless, agricultural stakeholders and farm ministers have given the Farm to Fork Strategy a lukewarm reception. This is because they support the continued use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics in EU farming – despite the environmental harm they do – and the Strategy calls the widespread use of these agrochemicals into question. Now, it’s over to the European Parliament to establish its position on the Strategy, which will send a strong political signal to the European Commission. This is especially timely with the UN Food Systems Summit taking place in two weeks time and the second edition of the Farm to Fork Conference in October.

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“MEPs cannot miss this golden opportunity to bolster the Farm to Fork Strategy and make it central to delivering the EU’s climate, biodiversity and sustainable development goals for 2030,” said Jabier Ruiz, Senior Policy Officer for Food and Agriculture at WWF’s European Policy Office. “The Strategy has a lot of potential to make our food systems more sustainable, if implemented at the scale needed. The Parliament can now give an essential impetus for this to happen.”

Overall, the European Parliament report must endorse the ambition of the Farm to Fork Strategy and call on the European Commission to fully develop and extend the policy initiatives covered under the strategy. More specifically, WWF considers it particularly important that MEPs support compromise amendments asking to:

Base the future EU law on sustainable food systems on the latest scientific knowledge and involve stakeholders from a broad variety of perspectives to ensure a legitimate and inclusive process. Introduce robust seafood traceability mechanisms that provide accurate information on where, when, how and which fish has been caught or farmed for all seafood products regardless of whether it is EU-caught or imported, fresh or processed.

Acknowledge that a population-wide shift in consumption patterns is needed, including addressing the overconsumption of meat and ultra-processed products, and present a protein transition strategy covering both the demand and the supply side to lower environmental and climate impacts.

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Encourage action to curb food waste occurring at the primary production level and early stages of the supply chain, including unharvested food, and set binding targets for food waste reduction at every stage of the supply chain. Introduce mandatory due diligence for supply chains to ensure EU imports are free of not only deforestation but also of any type of ecosystem conversion and degradation – and do not lead to any adverse impacts on human rights.

After the vote on Thursday, AGRI MEPs will also rubber-stamp the political agreement on the Common Agricultural Policy, reached in June. This is a standard procedure in EU policy-making and no surprises are expected.

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Agriculture

Agriculture: Commission adopts measure to increase cash flow to farmers

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The European Commission has adopted a measure allowing farmers to receive higher advances of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments. This measure will support and increase the cash flow to farmers affected by the COVID-19 crisis and by the impact of adverse weather conditions across the EU. Some regions have been deeply affected by floods, for instance.

The measure will allow member states to pay income support and certain rural development schemes to farmers with a higher level of advances, up to 70% (from 50%) of direct payments and 85% (from 75%) of rural development payments. The safeguards to protect the EU budget apply, so the payments can be disbursed once controls and checks have been finalised and as from 16 October 2021 for the direct payments. The European Commission has provided support to the agri-food sector throughout the COVID-19 crisis through increased flexibility and specific market measures. More information here.

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