Organic farming in Europe is shedding its niche label

Consumer demand in the EU is growing for more sustainable food production.

By  Horizon Staff

Europeans are increasingly keen to eat food that is both healthy for them and gentle on the environment. Retail sales of organic food in the EU jumped 80% between 2015 and 2020.

But accelerating the switch away from industrialised farming in Europe requires more than just an evolution in consumer demand. Actors throughout the agri-food system ranging from farmers and packagers to retailers and restaurants must be involved in the transition.

The EU aims for a quarter of its agricultural land to be under organic farming by 2030, up from almost 10% in 2021.

Organic farming not only is free of pesticides, fertilisers and anti-microbials but also embraces animal welfare, the protection of biodiversity, more localised supply and the reuse of materials.

As a key to a more sustainable agri-food system, organic farming supports the aims of the European Green Deal, the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy and the EU’s biodiversity strategy for 2030.

Organic farming respects natural ecosystems and protects soils as well as plant, animal and human health.

Although organic farms in Europe have lower yields on average, they generate similar or greater income per worker as a result of higher prices and EU support levels as well as some lower input costs.

Rules help foster change, particularly by bolstering consumer confidence. The principles of organic farming in Europe are set out in European legislation and are backed up by controls on farmers, processors and traders as well as by an EU-wide labelling system.

Research too has a key role to play because organic farming is knowledge-intensive rather than input-intensive.

The EU is allocating €9 billion to research and innovation in the area of food, the bioeconomy, natural resources, agriculture and the environment between 2021 and 2027.

This work is developing and sharing ecological best practices for farming in a bid to spur root-and-branch changes in Europe’s agri-food system.

Horizon Magazine talked with Jan Plagge, president of the European umbrella group for organic food and farming – IFOAM Organics Europe – about the EU’s contribution in this area. Plagge, who is also president of German organic food association Bioland, has been involved in the development of the sector in Europe for the past 30 years.

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This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.

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