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European Organic Congress in Brussels
 

4-5 December 2007

 

The IFOAM EU Group, in cooperation with partner organisations, is organising a European Organic Congress on 4 - 5 December 2007 in Brussels. The timing of this event is key.


  • The EU Action Plan on organic food and farming needs sound evaluation and follow up: Some actions have been started, others are completed. However, in certain areas, such as rural development, organic research and GMO contamination, the plan has had little or no impact.
  • At the same time, the Commission has initiated its mid term review of the CAP, the so called Health Check, and the 2008/9 budget review is under way, together with discussion on post-2013. All these will influence the political framework of the Common Agricultural Policy and specifically the role of organic  farming.
  • Additionally, future policy has to take into account current environmental challenges such as mitigating climate change and preventing the loss of biodiversity.

Our Congress aims at:

1)  assessing the current situation of EU organic production and  associated legislation;
2)  identifying the contribution of organic production to various EU political objectives; and
3)  defining clear recommendations that will permit a dynamic development of organic food and farming sector for the years to come.



Introduction


In recent years, organic production has received increasing attention in the public debate about agriculture. Several food scandals, including the BSE crisis, urged policy makers to recognise the potential of organic food and farming – it provides a solution to many of the problems that agriculture is facing today. As a consequence, most EU member states have set up action plans or special programmes to boost its development. The European Commission itself launched an EU organic action plan in June 2004. Organic production has become an important pillar within the CAP and rural development programmes.
 

Political Framework


It is clear that the political environment for agriculture has changed, and is continuing to change. This presents both opportunities and challenges for the organic sector.
  • The Lisbon Strategy to boost growth, jobs and innovation is the main overarching EU strategy for all policy areas (charged also to take account of sustainability by the Göteborg Strategy).
  • The EU budget for the new financial period (2007-2013) has decreased, meaning less money available for rural development programmes. This is one of the most important tools to balance the reduced incentives that organic production receives from other agriculture funding instruments.
  • The CAP Health Check and the budget review in 2008/2009 will further influence the political framework of agricultural policy.
  • The future of the first pillar of the CAP is uncertain after 2013.
  • Citizens, and therefore taxpayers, are only prepared to accept subsidies to agriculture if they provide extra public benefits.
  • Finally, EU agriculture has to conform with WTO agreements.
On the other hand, environmental issues are increasingly important on the political agenda:
  • political leaders such as Tony Blair and Angela Merkel have announced that mitigating climate change is one of the biggest challenges humans face;
  • EU governments have committed their efforts to halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010;
  • the European Commission has launched different environmental initiatives such as the biodiversity communication, the soil directive and the pesticide strategy; and
  • furthermore the issue of GMOs in European agriculture remains a controversial issue, and poses a direct threat to organic production.
Meanwhile, organic farming faces its own challenges, including:
  • Member states support organic farming to different degrees and in different ways, leading to inequalities and unfair competition;
  • organic farming cannot compete fairly with conventional farming because the latter externalises its costs and generally receives more subsidies;
  • the (still) small scale of organic farming means lack of some organic inputs, over-reliance on conventional agriculture, poorly developed infrastructure, and systems that are less balanced than they should be;
  • the level of research is inadequate and the provision of advice is patchy;
  • despite the organic regulation, standards and certification vary significantly in different countries, especially third countries; and
  • commercial pressures and increasing scale are creating tensions with organic purity and integrity.

Aims of the Congress


Given the above, it is time to assess the current situation of organic food and farming in the EU. The Organic Action Plan, the guiding document for EU organic policy, is on its way to completion. However, it can only be seen as a start towards a more sustainable agriculture. The Action Plan was poor in some key areas and these weaknesses are now even more crucial points on the agenda:
  • the new rural development programmes (2007-2013);
  • the lack of organic research under the 7th Framework Programme;
  • the question of GMO contamination with all consequences for organic production; and
  • the inclusion of systematic policy tools in the CAP that really address sustainable production.
Now, we need to set a new political agenda and ensure organic food and farming gets the attention it deserves. The Congress will help define clear recommendations for setting the right political framework that will support the further, and appropriate, development of organic food and farming.

In discussing further political support, policy makers have to measure to what extent organic production can help to achieve EU political objectives. In fact, organic food and farming is already recognised as contributing to the fulfilment of various political objectives of the European Union. What, for instance, can it contribute to the wider debate about future EU policy?

The Congress will explore:
  • The benefits organic food and farming delivers to society; and
  • its integrative character and economic potential.
The Congress will also address future challenges such as:
  • What is necessary in order to bring young farmers into organic businesses;
  • how can we secure the authenticity of organic production in a growing market; and
  • how can organic certification be at the same time effective, affordable and adaptable to different conditions?
It is important for all those involved in organic food and farming to be aware of the political context. The IFOAM EU Group, as the European umbrella organisation of the organic farming movement, assumes its responsibility to organise this event. It is an opportunity for representatives from all Europe and from all sectors to come together, to share perspectives, to catch up on the latest information, and to create an organic vision for the next years.