Agriculture: The future of farming should be organic

The organic farmers of the European Union went and held their own summit meeting, at Krya Vryssi, Yiannitsa, near Pella, in northern Greece. Representatives of the European branch of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) from 15 EU countries drafted goals and priorities, encouraged by the knowledge that organic products keep gaining ground in Europe. Room for growth Greece is part of these changes, though it lags behind its partners. The 1 percent of its cultivable land, or 35,000 hectares, that is organically farmed land does not put Greece on par with other member states, but it does show how much room there is for Greek organic farming to develop, and on a sound basis. «It’s enough,» commented a local participant in the conference, «to make the State prick up its ears and stop displaying indifference.» At a time when the Greek government confines itself to repeatedly making grand statements about its support for organic farming, neighboring Italy has made it compulsory for school canteens to sell organic products. At the Krya Vryssi conference (held in late March by DIO – an organic products certification organization – and the Krya Vryssi municipality), a message was read out from Agriculture Minister Georgios Drys, which underlined «the support of the Greek State for organic farming as a prime choice for the future of production and the countryside,» but which made no mention of organic farmers’ demands for subsidies to extend beyond five years and to all organic farmers, regardless of where they are located. The basic issues The IFOAM meeting showed that time is on the side of those who take action. On the agenda were the European Action Plan for organic farming, the revised Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), genetically modified organisms in Europe and the amendments to regulations governing organic farming and stock raising. Pella was chosen as the meeting place because a considerable nucleus of organic farmers has grown there in recent years, and also because the area is situated among leading farm production and export areas of northern Greece. The meeting concluded with some concrete proposals to present to the EU and national institutions, which state organic farmland can and must take up 10 percent of arable land in the enlarged EU by 2008. Some of the new member states have already made considerable progress in organic faming. Funding for promotion Organic farmers want more funding allocated to the promotion of organic products to consumers in general (in Greece very little is done to inform the public on such matters), and for information on and promotion of organic products to certain categories of the public (schools, hospitals, nursery school and kindergartens), a measure which has had encouraging success in other European countries. Apart from EU funding, the development of organic farming must also be based on income from activities that cause pollution. Italy has already taken the first step in that direction, by imposing an environmental tax of 0.5 percent on agricultural chemicals. The European branch of IFOAM believes the revised CAP is on the right path, because it takes the environmental dimension of agriculture into account and, for the first time, has separated the amount of a subsidy from the amount produced. As far as genetically modified (GM) organisms are concerned, European organic farmers propose the establishment of a strict inspection procedure in conventional farming so that GM seeds are not used. They also draw attention to the importance of implementing existing EU legislation on GM products, which are currently almost never applied.