By producing high quality food with low environmental impact, organic farming will play an essential role in developing a sustainable food system for the EU.
A sustainable food system is at the heart of the European Green Deal. Under the Green Deal’s Farm to Fork strategy, the European Commission has set a target of ‘at least 25% of the EU’s agricultural land under organic farming and a significant increase in organic aquaculture by 2030’.
To achieve this target and to help the organics sector reach its full potential, the Commission is putting forward an action plan for organic production in the EU.
This plan includes the launch of annual awards recognising the excellence in the organic value chain. The inaugural EU organic awards ceremony to announce the winners took place in Brussels on 23 September 2022, as one of a range of activities and events to mark EU organic day.
Action plan for organic production in the EU
The Commission has set out a comprehensive organic action plan for the European Union. Through it, the Commission will aim to achieve the European Green Deal target of 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030.
The new organic action plan builds on the achievements of the 2014-20 action plan and takes into account the outcome of a public consultation on organics, held between September and November 2020.
The action plan is broken into three interlinked axes that reflect the structure of the food supply chain and the Green Deal's sustainability objectives.
Axis 1: stimulate demand and ensure consumer trust.
Axis 2: stimulate conversion and reinforce the entire value chain.
Axis 3: organics leading by example: improve the contribution of organic farming to environmental sustainability.
The three axes will be supported by 23 actions, continuing some of the successful 2014-20 actions, as well as putting forward an array of new actions and mobilising different sources of funding.
Stronger support in the new common agricultural policy
The common agricultural policy (CAP) will be mobilised fully to support the implementation of the action plan. Financial support for organics will continue to be offered through rural development commitments, with an additional stream of funding made available through eco-schemes. CAP support will also include technical assistance and the exchange of best practices and innovations in organics. Farm advisory services will be strengthened, notably as part of Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS), to promote relevant knowledge exchange.
Focus on research and innovation
Organic farming is knowledge-intensive. However, there is still a clear need to further enhance the knowledge so that organic farming can become even more sustainable and also more productive. To support the ambitions of the action plan, the Commission intends to dedicate at least 30% of the budget for research and innovation actions in the fields of agriculture, forestry and rural areas to topics specific to or relevant for the organic sector. This includes issues such as increased crop yields, genetic biodiversity and alternatives to contentious products.
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Boosting consumer demand
Axis 1: stimulate demand and ensure consumer trust
EU citizens increasingly value organic products. Based on the 2020 Eurobarometer survey on EU agriculture and the CAP, citizens believe that organic products are more likely to comply with specific rules on pesticides, fertilisers, and antibiotics (82% agreed), are more environmentally friendly (81%), and are produced with higher respect for animal welfare (80%). According to the survey, 56% of citizens recognise the organic logo, up from 27% in 2017.
Retail sales for organic products have increased by over 128% in the last 10 years, from approximately €18 billion in 2009 to €41 billion in 2019. On average, each European spends around €84 per year on organic products.
Increasing the consumption of organic products and strengthening consumers’ trust in them are vital to encourage farmers to convert to organics. To support continued growth and maintain a profitable market for organic operators, the Commission will undertake actions to:
- promote organic farming and the EU logo;
- promote organic canteens and increase the use of green public procurement;
- reinforce organic school schemes;
- prevent food fraud and strengthen consumer trust;
- improve traceability;
- facilitate the contribution of the private sector.
Stimulating production and processing
Axis 2: stimulating conversion and reinforcing the entire value chain
In order to increase the share of land being farmed under organic practices, further development is needed along all stages of the supply chain. Adequate structures must be put in place to encourage local production and short distribution channels, which would enable farmers to benefit fully from the added value of organic produce.
The area under organic farming has increased by almost 66% in the last 10 years – from 8.3 million hectares in 2010 to 13.8 million hectares in 2019. It currently accounts for 8.5% of the EU’s total ‘utilised agricultural area’.
To continue progress in production and processing, the action plan will:
- encourage conversion, investments and exchanges of best practices;
- develop sector analysis to increase market transparency;
- support the organisation of the food chain;
- reinforce local and small-value processing and foster short trade circuit;
- improve animal nutrition in accordance with organic rules;
- reinforce organic aquaculture.
Strengthening environmental sustainability
Axis 3: organics leading by example: improving the contribution of organic farming to sustainability
Organic farming contributes to the protection of the environment and the climate, the long-term fertility of the soil, high levels of biodiversity, a non-toxic environment and high animal welfare standards.
Land farmed organically has about 30% more biodiversity than land farmed conventionally. Organic farming is, for instance, beneficial to pollinators. Organic farmers are not allowed to use chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. In addition, the use of GMOs and ionising radiation is prohibited and the use of antibiotics is severely restricted.
However, it is important to explore new and improved ways for organic farming to reduce its environmental impact. The Commission will further improve the organic sector’s contribution to sustainability and environmental challenges through actions focused on:
- reducing climate and environmental footprint;
- enhancing genetic biodiversity and increasing yields;
- developing alternatives to contentious inputs and other plant protection products;
- enhancing animal welfare;
- making more efficient use of resources.
New legislation relating the organics sector was introduced on 1 January 2022. This legislation seeks to respond to the challenges posed by the rapid expansion of organic farming by providing a more effective legal framework for the industry.