Bjerregaard calls for organic farming targets

Ambitious strategy needed to triple organically farmed area within five years, says commissioner

The European Union should set targets for increasing the importance of organic farming in order to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment, acting EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard told a conference on the future of the sector in Vienna yesterday.

Addressing the gathering of farmers, traders and NGOs, Ms Bjerregaard said a "good start" towards her "personal vision" of a farming future without chemicals, which "pollute the soil, the water and the food chain" would be to triple the area of land farmed organically by 2005. Currently 2% of the EU's agricultural area is cultivated without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

However, the commissioner said that the organic area could be increased to as much as 25% by 2010 if the right measures were introduced. Steps taken to support the expansion of organic farming so far, such as the establishment of a standard for production methods, were "piecemeal" and "insufficient", she said.

To avoid "hampering the development" of the sector, incentives were needed for farmers to convert to organic production, the market structure of the sector had to be strengthened and the quality of produce needed to be improved, she said. Although the commissioner welcomed the new framework for rural development introduced under the recent Agenda 2000 reforms (ENDS Daily 9 March), she said it needed "filling out" to allow organic farming to become a "major element" of rural development policy.

Acting EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler also spoke at the meeting, outlining the ways in which the recent changes to the common agricultural policy (CAP) could be used to benefit organic farmers. However, he conspicuously failed to endorse his colleague's call for farmed land area targets, saying only that organic farming could "offer an interesting alternative".

Member states can now support organic farming by making EU funding dependent on "cross-compliance" with minimum environmental standards, he stated. If these were not met then the support could be redirected to agri-environment schemes such organic conversion, he said, although he acknowledged that this "drastic measure" was only optional and whether countries decide to use it in this way "remains to be seen".

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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