Organic farming offers the best available set of tools and practices to achieve a transition to sustainable agriculture, the French Court of Auditors declared this week. But the Court warned that current funding shortfalls and patchy policy support threatens France’s progress towards meeting its own, and landmark EU, organic targets.
The Court identified multiple benefits of organic agriculture:
• (Organic) responds to multiple challenges, in particular environmental, health and economic, and is driven by strong social delivery
• Using the latest statistical tools and scientific literature, the Court shows that adopting organic systems would reduce negative externalities associated with conventional farming, and provide net benefits through its own positive externalities”
• The scientific literature shows substantial reduction in several diseases (cancer and diabetes, among others) among regular consumers of organic products”
The high profile intervention is significant, coming as it does from the France’s supreme body overseeing public funds.
The Court notes that at precisely the time France should be scaling up organic production, the market is stalling and in danger of sliding backwards. And it warns that France’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty is currently failing to meet its own stated ambitions for organic. If nothing changes, the Court says, the country will struggle to meet both its own target of 18% of total farmland to be under organic systems by 2027 and the EU’s 25%-organic-by-2030 target.
The Court says that a lack of public communication about the beneficial impacts of organic, poor labelling and insufficient market stimulus contributed to the decline in the sales of organic seen in 2021. It also notes growing competition from “less demanding ‘green’ labels” which are given similar environmental weighting to organic farming” by public authorities.
On funding, the Court says that aid for organic directed through the common agricultural policy (CAP) “does not match the objectives France has set itself`”. It says half the latest funding round for organic was used in the initial year of the programme (2015), which has resulted in a substantial proportion of organic farms missing out on CAP aid altogether.
To close the gap between “action and ambition”, and set France on track to meeting its organic targets, the Court makes 12 Recommendations gathered under three headings: Better informing citizens and consumers about the environmental and health impact” of organic farming; Redirecting public support to agriculture for the benefit of the organic sector; Proper remuneration for environmental services of organic farming in the future CAP.
• The French Court of Auditors full report can be read here.