Organic farming is growing rapidly throughout most of Europe, with strong government backing in some countries but without the benefit of a European or specifically EU strategy. In her previous role as EU environment commissioner, Ritt Bjerregaard - who is now Denmark's agriculture minister - argued strongly for this policy gap to be filled (ENDS Daily 28 May 1999).
Opening last week's conference, Ms Bjerregaard said her vision was "to reach a conclusion stating that partnership and action are needed - and that this is best secured by initiating the work with a European action plan". The minister's plea was answered by seven of her EU counterparts, representing Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland and Greece, plus ministers from non-EU members Estonia, Lithuania, Norway and Switzerland.
The Copenhagen declaration was also signed by representatives of European farmers' association Copa, the European association of consumer cooperatives Euro Coop, organic farming group Ifoam and European green NGO umbrella group the European Environmental Bureau.
The organisers have left deliberately vague whether an action plan would have formal status in the EU, but clearly would like this to be the case. Detailed recommendations from the meeting are to be handed to the EU's current Swedish presidency, and EU farm ministers will discuss the Copenhagen declaration next month, according to conference organiser and Danish agriculture ministry official Flemming Duus Mathiesen.
Mr Mathiesen also stressed the importance of German agriculture minister Renate Künast being among the declaration's signatories. Having taken on the job with a promise to address the root causes of Europe's recent food scandals, Ms Künast has targeted 20% organic agriculture within ten years (ENDS Daily 19 January). Germany's initiative virtually guarantees that the issue will have a much higher political profile at EU level.
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