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Feeding Europe with organic farming is possible
Member of the European Parliament (The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats)
A transition to 100% organic agriculture in Europe is possible! This requires on the one hand considerable financial investments. And waste reduction, cutting out animal protein consumption and implementing local distribution channels on the other hand.
Organic farming has less impact on the environment, climate change and our health
In order to understand what is at stake, we need to have a systemic approach and to have a look at the impact of conventional farming on the environment, on climate change, on human health and on productivity. When comparing organic and conventional farming, we understand that even though organic farming is less productive, it also has far less impact on the environment, climate change and our health. We know that the economic cost of environmental degradation keeps getting higher and higher. This cost is also significant for human health and must be taken into account. Switching to organic agriculture could reduce these environmental costs and the impact on our health.
The increase of the necessary cultivated area to switch to organic farming would be around 16% to 35% of additional cultivated land. And yet, this does not mean that the environment would suffer from it: the new agricultural land would not be damaged, since organic farming is respectful of the environment. In this case, greenhouse gas emissions of the farming industry would decrease by 3% to 7%. We can thus increase the size of cultivated land while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Afterres2050 study conducted by Solagro in 2016 showed that if France was to reach 50% of organic cultivated land, it would feed 72 million French people while cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by half and dividing its pesticides use by three.
Organic food is a realistic solution to the climate crisis we are going through
Today, 30% of our food is thrown away even before it reaches the consumer’s plate worldwide. Reducing food waste is possible if we manage to restrict competition between food produced for humans, and food produced for livestock. In other words, we have to reduce our animal protein consumption.
My only concern is that the current transition to organic farming is too slow, even though organic food is a realistic solution to the climate crisis we are going through. As such, in order to switch to organic agriculture, we need clear, compelling quantifiable objectives. However, when the new CAP has been voted on, some fell short of the necessary requirements. Regarding the goals of the European Green Deal, the CAP should bring a stronger support to organic farming. Only 1.8% of the CAP budget is allocated to organic agriculture, whereas organic cultivated land accounts for 8.5% of total agricultural area in the EU. The CAP subsidies should thus aim to help farmers transition toward organic farming much more than it does today.
The transition toward organic farming is a political choice
To succeed, three components must be developed: first, fight speculation and the excessive margins of food distributors in order to guarantee fair prices for all. Speculation causes a sharp rise in food prices and forces families to turn to food aid. Second, we need to provide organic food to school canteens and restaurants. Third, local distribution channels between producers and distributors must be developed. The French AMPAs (Association for the Maintenance of Peasant Agriculture) are a good example.
The transition toward organic farming is therefore a political choice. If we really want to achieve carbon neutrality in Europe, our agricultural policy must play an important role in the green transition. In that regard, organic agriculture is a solution.
100% Organic agriculture would weaken our food sovereignty
Member of the French Academy of Agriculture and co-author of the book « Le tout bio est-il possible ? »
Advocating for 100% organic farming in Europe by 2050 would mean upgrading all agricultural productions. Is it possible, and is it something we should even wish for?
Organic agriculture is less productive than conventional agriculture
A transition of all European agricultural land to 100% organic farming would result in an important drop in agricultural production, regarding the inferior returns of organic lands in comparison to conventional farming. The difference is 25% on average, even up to 50% in the biggest field crops.
Can we consider, despite the production drop that would result from organic farming, that European agriculture would still be able to meet the needs of a population that will reach 530 million inhabitants by 2050? According to several studies (cf. the IDRI-TYPHA study), this would quantitatively be possible, but only if we were to reduce our meat consumption by 30% and reduce food waste by 50%. We are still very far from these recommendations.
Organic food is expensive and demand is not strong enough to sell the production
The extension of organic farming, less productive than conventional farming whereas its labor costs are higher, would translate into higher cost prices of agricultural productions that would be passed on to consumers. What would their reaction be to this increase in the price of their groceries? Faced with a 100% organic European supply, what would the demand level for organic products on the European market be?
The vast majority of consumers would still choose food products from conventional farming, for they are much cheaper. These products would have come from other countries that would have kept developing productive agriculture, while this type of farming would have disappeared in the EU. As such, a 100% organic production supply would absolutely not imply a 100% increase in demand from consumers for organic products.
Let’s assume that organic farming in the EU represented 30% of total market share, a very high figure for high-end productions (the actual number is around 3 to 10% depending on the country), with 100% organic agriculture in Europe. The consequence would be that 70% of food production would find no outlet in the EU and would thus have to conquer other markets outside the EU to be sold.
With 100% organic agriculture, we would have to rely on imports
At the same time, to keep the biggest market segment satisfied, in other words the mass market, the EU would have to massively import non-organic agricultural products coming from countries that would have stuck to productive agriculture, and thus sold at a lower price.
Dedicating 100% of EU agricultural land to organic farming, while consumers, including middle classes, actually want to buy affordable products, would be a strategic mistake. It would sentence the EU, who would have left conventional farming, to rely on imports from powerful agricultural countries.
To conclude, food sovereignty of the EU producing 100% organically grown food would be severely undermined. A considerable amount of our food consumption would still be coming from conventional farming, but not from Europe.