European Ag Ministers Support Organic Farming

European Ag Ministers Support Organic Farming

May 14, 2001 Environment News Service

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, May 14, 2001 (ENS) - Agriculture ministers from 12 European countries have called for creation within two years of a European action plan for the development of organic farming and food. Agreed at a conference in the Danish capital on Friday, the Copenhagen Declaration marks a breakthrough for the European organic movement, according to Denmark's agriculture ministry.

Organic farming is growing rapidly throughout most of Europe, with strong government backing in some countries but without the benefit of a European or specifically European Union strategy. In her previous role as EU environment commissioner, Ritt Bjerregaard - who is now Denmark's agriculture minister - argued strongly for this policy gap to be filled.

Opening the Organic Food and Farming conference, Bjerregaard said her vision is "to reach a conclusion stating that partnership and action are needed - and that this is best secured by initiating the work with a European action plan."

The minister's plea was answered by seven of her European Union counterparts, representing Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland and Greece, plus ministers from non-EU members Estonia, Lithuania, Norway and Switzerland.

Cattle feed laced with blood and bone meal is linked to the spread of mad cow disease.

The Copenhagen Declaration was also signed by representatives of European farmers' association Copa, the European association of consumer cooperatives Euro Coop, organic farming group Ifoam and European green NGO umbrella group the European Environmental Bureau.

The declaration states that, "Organic farming is a highly relevant tool, which contains the potential to participate in solving simultaneously a range of problems related to food production, environment, animal welfare, and rural development."

It cites a "growing consumer interest for certified organic products" in arguing that organic food and farming is becoming a major opportunity for food producers in Europe.

The organizers have left deliberately vague whether an action plan would have formal status in the European Union, but it is clear they would like this to be the case.

Detailed recommendations from the meeting are to be handed to the European Union's current Swedish Presidency, and EU farm ministers will discuss the Copenhagen Declaration next month, according to conference organizer and Danish agriculture ministry official Flemming Duus Mathiesen.

German Agriculture Minister Renate Kuenast (Photo courtesy German Ministry of Agriculture)

Mathiesen also stressed the importance of German Agriculture Minister Renate Kuenast being among the declaration's signatories. Having taken on the job with a promise to address the root causes of Europe's recent food scandals, Kuenast has targeted 20 percent organic agriculture within ten years. Germany's initiative virtually guarantees that the issue will have a much higher political profile at the European Union level.

The declaration's signatories said that within two years the Council of Ministers, the European Commission and European governments should analyse the barriers to and potential for further growth within production, processing, trade and consumption of organic products in Europe.

They should present a consensus oriented and market based strategy, which involves all stakeholders within Europe as a whole, including the European Commission, national governments, consumers, farmers, producers, retailers, nongovernmental organizations, researchers and other important stakeholders, the declaration states.

Any such analysis must cover all aspects concerning the development of organic food and farming in Europe, including areas such as environmental protection, animal welfare, consumer behavior, market development, food safety, food quality, regulation, certification and labeling, research and international trade, the delegates recommended.

Also with the initial two year period, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission and European governments should analyze the relationship between development of organic food and farming and the Common Agricultural Policy and other international agreements including the World Trade Organization.

Many pure foods issues have engaged public opinion over the past five years - the safety of genetically modified foods, mad cow disease, dioxin in animal feeds, and most recently widespread foot and mouth disease amongst cattle and sheep.

David Byrne is the commissioner responsible for European health and consumer protection (Photo courtesy European Commission)

Last week, European Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne launched the preparations for setting up one of the key bodies of the future European Food Authority now in the works.

Representatives of national food safety agencies in the EU Member States met in Brussels as the Interim Scientific Advisory Forum to identify the agencies or other bodies that will be the national counterparts of the European Food Authority and represented on its Advisory Forum, and to begin work on closer scientific co-operation.

No formal steps can be taken until the legislation setting up the European Food Authority is adopted, and a new legal entity constituted. "But at a scientific and technical level we can already move forward, and we should do so," Byrne said.

A live Internet chat with David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, and Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, is scheduled for June 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. (CET). To find out about joining the chat, log on to:

For an official discussion of organic farming in Germany visit:

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