Organics lagging behind: More funding critical to hit EU green targets, flags IFOAM
09 Feb 2023 --- Reaching the target of 25% organic farmland by 2030 would deliver “significant environmental benefits” ranging from climate change mitigation, reduction of nitrogen pollution and pesticide use as well as biodiversity protection, according to a study by IFOAM Organics Europe, who insist much more money is needed to make this a reality.
However, IFOAM estimates – using Eurostat data – that the current growth trend suggests the EU will only reach 14% of organic land by the decade’s end.
Massive investments are needed to achieve the 25% goal across the EU, as the bloc is set to spend €3 billion (US$3.22 billion) per year on average when IFOAM estimates €9 to €15 billion (US$9.66 to $16.13 billion) would be needed annually to reach the target.
IFOAM previously argued the lack of funding is damaging, as the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plan (2023-2027) doesn’t designate enough financial incentive to farmers to switch to organic practices.
The European Commission set the 25% target under the European Green Deal Farm to Fork Strategy.
According to Innova Market Insights, organic is the third largest health claim globally in food and beverage positionings, after gluten-free and no additives/preservatives. In Europe, it is the most important health claim, appearing in 17% of total food and beverage launches in the continent.
Organic trends rise
According to the market researcher, organic labeling and consumer demands keep changing. Ingredient provenance is emerging in product labels, as consumers want to know where products come from and the methods and date of harvest.
Moreover, animal welfare and regenerative farming practices are in high demand when shopping for organic foods; when in the past absence of pesticide claims was the most sought for claim in labeling. GMO-free and no antibiotics remain popular label claims among consumers.
According to Innova Market Insights, the organic trend is largely impulsed by Millenials, as one of every three consumers that claim to follow an organic diet are between 26 and 35 years.
Cutting on emissions
IFOAM’s study breaks down the multiple environmental benefits if the EU were to hit a quarter of organic land by 2030.
Organic land does not depend on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer – production of which accounts for half of the energy use in the bloc’s agriculture – as it uses biological fixation through legumes as the primary nitrogen source.
“The reduced use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer will enhance water quality and biodiversity while reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions,” says the organization.
The total CO2 reduction is estimated at 25 million metric tons just from a reduction in nitrogen use. The total greenhouse gas emissions reduction is estimated at 68 million metric tons or 15% of the EU27 agriculture emissions.
“This is the result of the combination of no synthetic nitrogen application, reduced livestock production and increased carbon sequestration under temporary grassland,” according to IFOAM.
Europe would also be less dependent on fertilizer imports.
“Compared to organic farmland shares in 2020, the 25% equal shares scenario represents a reduction of 1.8 million metric tons or 18.6% of actual EU-27 fertilizer use in 2020. This means that achieving the 25% organic farmland target could also almost deliver in itself the 20% fertilizer reduction target in the Farm to Fork Strategy as a co-benefit,” IFOAM underscores.
Furthermore, air quality would be improved by reducing 13% of ammonia in the atmosphere annually – compared to a scenario of zero organic farming.
Reaching 25% of organic land – instead of 14% – would reduce livestock numbers 11% by the decade’s end.
While this would reduce the number of animals raised for consumption, it would also reduce the demand for feed cereals and oilseeds, freeing up arable land for human consumption.
Nonetheless, EU27 cereal output, for example, would be reduced 5% to 10%.
“The net effect of a minimal change in availability of crops for human consumption can be reduced further by addressing food waste,” IFOAM notes.
EU agricultural outlook projections forecast a decline in dairy product consumption of 0.2% per year until 2031 and of meat consumption of 3 kg per capita (reaching 67 kg, down from 70 kg in 2021).
Pesticide use in organic farmland is flagged to 90% to 95% lower in organic agriculture, reaching the 25% target that would allow to deliver “up to a third of the 50% reduction target in the Farm to Fork Strategy,” according to the organization.
“Only natural substances are authorized for pest control in organic farming, as a complement to preventive measures, mostly for specialty crops such as fruits and vines,” IFOAM explains.
Biodiversity gains were difficult to assess, according to the study. However, the authors note that it would support insects and pollinators.
Previous studies on biodiversity and organic farming found that organic agriculture has a positive effect in increasing the number of arable plant species, birds and its abundance and of insects in general.
By Marc Cervera
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