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Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development
High hopes for organic farming in the EU
European Congress of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) EU Group
Gödöllo, 31 May 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
Before talking to you about reform and the future prospects for organic farming, let me briefly look back to the past.
I would just like to say – what a long way we have come since the first European legislation on organic farming in 1991! At that time, the sector was still being dismissed rather lightly. It was thought to involve a few eccentrics and farmers who wanted to do things differently. Pioneers, really, who were not always taken seriously.
A lot has changed since then - organic farming is no longer seen in the same way, either by public opinion or by political leaders. The market has developed and the sector is well organised. Organic farming can become a model for making our agricultural systems sustainable.
But I do not think that organic farmers themselves have changed. I know that one needs real conviction to farm organically. The sector has stuck with determination to a vision of farming that respects the ability of natural resources to regenerate. The sector has also been able to establish processing standards which respond to the consumer appeal of products which are as natural as possible.
Organic farming has managed to win the trust of Europeans. This trust is the organic sector’s most precious asset, and it must protect it at all costs.
This trust is the product of the remarkable efforts of some 200 000 European organic farms. It has enabled the EU-27 organic market to achieve a turnover of around 20 billion euros. In Germany, the UK, France, Italy and many other European countries, the organic section is no longer just a few shelves hidden in a corner. Before, to be able to find organic products in supermarkets, you would have to really want to. Nowadays, they are clearly identified and promoted.
I am convinced that this positive trend is set to continue. The average age of organic farmers reflects the vitality of the sector - only 36 % are over 55, compared with 56 % of conventional farmers. Young generations believe in the future of organic farming.
This trust is also the product of the demanding legislative work which has taken place over the last 20 years. After regulating plant products, the Community introduced a regulatory framework for organic animal products in 1999. In 2006 this was extended to processed products
Europe has underpinned society’s shift towards organic farming, and this has gathered pace since 2004 with the European action plan.
Over the past eight years, almost all the actions from this road map have been implemented.
The only exceptions are a few actions relating, in particular, to international trade. We are actively working on these – this year, a list of inspection agencies in third countries will be published, so that the system will be operational in 2012. We have also initiated fruitful discussions on organic farming with the African Union. These will begin in the next few weeks. We are also making progress with our other international partners; China, the United States and, of course, Canada.
Another subject still on our list – which everyone here is familiar with – is organic wine.
I hope that we will manage to reach a solution on this dossier between now and the summer, so that it can be applied to next year's harvest at the latest. But I want to make it very clear that I will not make any decision that would risk undermining the credibility of the sector as a whole.
Since 1 July 2010, the whole European organic sector has had a common logo. Last year, I awarded the prize to the young designer who came up with this symbol, which for me is a variation on the EU motto ‘united in diversity’. This organic logo links all the operators in the sector and unites producers and consumers. Diversity is represented by the variety of organic products available and the additional quality marks which accompany the organic logo.
We must all work together to ensure this little green leaf really embodies the trust between organic farming and consumers. We cannot allow ourselves to weaken this trust, especially with a product like wine, which is synonymous with tradition, a connection with the soil, and savoir vivre.
Instead, we must continue to consolidate the organic sector’s position in Europe. I want to explore two aspects of this issue with you. The first is, how do we specifically take organic farming into account in the CAP reform? The other is the report on the application of legislation in the organic sector which will be published at the end of 2011.
The post-2013 reform will give organic farming the importance due to it.
Firstly, under pillar one, direct aid: farmers who have organic certification will of course be automatically eligible for the greening element of direct aid. This will be a clear sign recognising the sustainable nature of organic farming.
Secondly, under pillar two of the CAP, existing measures to help farms to convert to organic, or to help farms which have already taken the plunge to stay organic, will be maintained or strengthened. Under pillar two, we will also offer both organic and conventional farmers the possibility of support in creating short distribution channels.
Finally, I would like to mention innovation and research. Organic agriculture plays a full part in the knowledge-based farming of tomorrow. Organic farming has very often been able to lead the way in production practices which make nature into an ally, rather than an adversary to be combated with artificial means. We must develop innovation, advice and knowledge-sharing to spread best practice. I am sure that the technological platform for organic farming will contribute to this.
As far as the report is concerned, I can guarantee that we will devote close attention to analysing the organic sector’s current framework. It is possible for the Commission to propose new legislative initiatives to accompany this report, if necessary.
To conclude, I want to tell you that - like many Europeans - I have high hopes for organic agriculture. Under the CAP reform, we have started a process which can truly reconcile economic competitiveness on the one hand, and ecological competitiveness on the other. Organic agriculture has been reflecting on this issue for a long time. You can make an active contribution to these debates, with real solutions, firstly for developing the sector, but also for showing the way forward, sharing knowledge with other forms of agriculture, and setting a genuinely positive example for the sustainability of European agriculture in general.