French president Emmanuel Macron's ambitions to shake up the food sector and ensure producers are price setters rather than price takers, addressing the imbalance of power in the food sector that would return more money to farmers, are at odds with French government plans to stop supporting subsidies for French organic farmers converting to organic agriculture under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), revealed late October.
State support, meant to offset some of the increased costs linked to organic production and sustainable farming practices, will be scrapped in 2018, while the government wants to enhance conversion incentives. “It is up to the market to support organic agriculture because demand is high. We have to be able to give a joint response”, said Agriculture Minister Stéphane Travert giving a speech to the Tech&Bio fair in Bourg-lès-Valence.
“If we must choose, we need to support conversion measures – that’s where the game is played” affirms French MEP Eric Andrieu, socialist (S&D) spokesperson on agriculture. “But it is perhaps a little early to make this choice.”
Faced with a financial hole of EUR853 million for organic and mountain areas farming, the Agriculture Minister decided to review the allocation of funds under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the period 2018-2020.
However, during the first semester of 2017, the number of farmers converting to organic increased by 9.2 percent according to the latest figures from Agence Bio, while in 2016, the organic market was worth over EUR7 billion – a seven percent growth compared to 2016.
And 58 percent of French consumers believes that organic agriculture is a solution for environmental problems and should be developed further.
The French moves come as IFOAM EU participants at the 11th European Organic Congress held in Estonia called for 50 percent of all agricultural land to be farmed under organic or agro-ecological methods by 2030. IFOAM EU president Christopher Stopes said that the movement’s new Organic Roadmap to Sustainable Food and Farming Systems in Europe sets out vital strategic pathways for supporting an ambitious implementation of the UN's sustainable development goals (SDGs).
"More importantly, practical solutions for reaching our vision were on hand as participants showcased examples of how food and farming stakeholders are already giving life to our Roadmap, from producer and consumer coops working to have organic on every table, to the development of an organic cities network that improves, inspires, delivers, to regional marketing programs that ensure fair play – fair pay," Mr. Stopes said.
According to IFOAM, French withdrawal from the support of organic agriculture is a denial of the environmental benefits organic farming has, and that it is not rewarded by the market properly.
“It is disappointing that the French government is turning its back to organic farming at a time when more and more consumers and agriculture experts are calling for a transition to agroecology,” said Eric Gall, IFOAM EU Policy Manager.
“IFOAM EU calls on French regions to continue to support established organic farmers, who actively contribute to job creation and the dynamism of rural areas, as well as to the preservation of natural resources,” he said.
IFOAM also calls for a fundamental overhaul of the CAP, which should prioritize farmers who provide environmental services and public goods.
Under the French president's food pricing plans, the starting price in food price negotiations would be set by farmers. This way food prices could better reflect the cost of production that may help French farmers, who, like UK farmers, have borne the brunt of an intense supermarket price war over the past few years, which have contributed to squeezed margins.
But he said this would not be a 'blank cheque' to raise food prices. In France, there is a minimum price at which retailers can sell certain food products – this would be raised under Macron’s proposals.