Faced with these new challenges, the EU has identified the need to improve the regulatory framework for the sector, so the drafting of an organic farming regulation is naturally one of the Latvian Presidency's key priorities in the field of agriculture.
Organic farming is an agricultural system which respects natural plant and animal growth cycles and provides consumers with high-quality products. It helps reduce the human impact on the environment and operates as naturally as possible by following a number of principles:
- strictly prohibiting the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and antibiotics;
- prohibiting the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and substances derived from them;
- limiting the use of off-site resources; organic farms mostly use on-site resources such as feed produced on the farm;
- choosing plant and animal species that are resistant to disease and adapted to local conditions;
- raising livestock in free-range, open-air systems and providing them with organic feed;
- using crop rotation to grow different types of crops in sequence in each field over a number of years to ensure plant health, maintain soil fertility and obtain high and stable yields.
Organic farming encompasses not only crop-growing and raising livestock, but also extends to the food processing, distribution and retailing sectors.
A strict control system provides for checks to be carried out at each stage of the organic chain, so all parties involved in organic farming should receive a certificate of conformity attesting that the product complies with all the requirements of organic production.
Even though the rules which must be observed by organic food producers, processors, distributors, suppliers and retailers are very strict, the EU organic farming sector has grown substantially in the last decade and both the number of farms and the land area used for organic farming have doubled:
- from 2000 to 2012 the total area cultivated according to organic farming rules increased on average by 6.7%, or 500 000 hectares, each year;
- in 2012, the EU had a total area of 9.6 million hectares cultivated according to organic farming rules – around 5.4% of the total utilised agricultural area in the EU;
- 11% of the total utilised agricultural area in Latvia is cultivated according to organic farming rules.
The Latvian organic farming sector experienced rapid development after Latvia's accession to the EU and is continuing to grow steadily. In 2015, there were almost 3 500 certified organic farms, and the number of organic product-processing enterprises has also increased significantly.
The main priority in agriculture
Currently, the EU faces various challenges that need to be addressed by improving the existing organic farming regulation, which is why the European Commission adopted the legislative proposal for a new Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products in March 2014.
The proposal is based on an Impact Assessment Report which was prepared by collecting 45 000 opinions from consumers and producers.
The Regulation on organic farming is one of the main priorities of the Latvian Presidency in the field of agriculture which, if adopted, would bring several important improvements. It would:
- overcome obstacles to the sustainable development of organic farming in the EU by removing various derogations and exceptions from the existing rules. For example, when organically produced plant propagation material is not available, in some cases it is allowed to use non-organic seeds in order to ensure the continuity of organic production. As this type of derogation does not promote the establishment of organic seed production companies, such derogations will be limited in the new Regulation;
- guarantee fair competition for farmers and entrepreneurs in the EU and third countries and ensure that the internal market functions more effectively;
- maintain and boost consumer confidence in organic products. The growing demand for organic products increases the risk of fraudulent activities which not only damage the interests of consumers, but also have a negative impact on the reputation of organic producers.
Taking into consideration the political guidelines it received at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in late 2014, the Latvian Presidency has worked intensively on the compromise text for the EU organic farming regulation.
The compromise proposal has been considered at expert level in the EU Council working groups on food quality, and at political level at the monthly meetings of the Special Committee on Agriculture and at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meetings in March, May and June.
The Latvian Presidency has made substantial progress and will continue its work to reach an agreement on sensitive issues. The main challenge facing the Presidency is to reach a general agreement at Council level so that negotiations can start with the European Parliament on the proposal for a regulation on organic farming.
Bringing together high-level specialists
Several events devoted to this topic will take place during the Latvian Presidency, the most important of which is the 9th European Organic Congress: "Designing our Future".
Participants at the congress, which takes place in Riga in mid-June, will discuss the development of organic farming in light of the upcoming EU organic farming regulation and new opportunities for the development of organic farming following the introduction of the new Rural Development Programme.
The congress is organised by the Latvian Ministry of Agriculture in cooperation with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and the Latvian Organic Agriculture Association, and will bring together representatives from the European Commission, the European Parliament, Member State Ministries, EU scientific institutions, organic farms, organic farming control bodies and other organisations.