The European Commission is showing a bias towards organic farmers in the trading bloc while cutting funding for the overall agriculture sector, according to some of the largest agriculture and food organizations in the European Union.
The farm and co-op group COPA-COGECA, the European Dairy Association, European Fresh Produce Association, European Potato Trade Association and others have signed letters to the public and to Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, complaining about the commission decision to increase funding for the promotion of organic food, while cutting overall funding for agriculture promotion in the EU’s Annual Work Program, or AWP.
“We are extremely concerned about both the overall reduction and the imbalanced allocation of the 2021 Annual Work Programme budget,” the groups said in the letter to Wojciechowski.
The first issue is overall funding. The farm groups say they were prepared for a cut in government funding to promote European ag around the globe, but not to the extent that’s now being proposed. While European farmers were ready to accept a 4% cut, they are not agreeing to the proposed 9% cut that would leave them with just the equivalent of $224 million for the program next year.
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“In times during which additional support for agricultural products promotion is particularly needed due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the forthcoming Brexit this budget reduction is particularly inappropriate,” the groups told Wojciechowski.
But what the groups are directing much of their ire to is the level of funding being provided to the organic sector. Along with the 9% decrease in promotional funding, the European Commission is proposing to increase funding for organics by 30% within the downsized program.
They even argue that promoting organic ag too much could be detrimental to the sector.
“Today the organic agriculture segment represents only 8% of the total EU agricultural production. While the organic sector certainly has growth perspective, the current budget proposal does not correspond to market reality and is therefore not realistic,” the groups said in the open letter. “To secure long term viability of the organic sector, growth needs to follow consumer demand. Promotion opportunities should therefore be adjusted to the natural growth of the production potential and the market demand, otherwise the profitability for this agriculture segment will be seriously at risk.”
The groups did not mention the proposed European Green Deal, but Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the U.S.-based Organic Trade Association, tells Agri-Pulse that the planned overhaul of EU farming and food production under the Farm to Fork Strategy makes the expansion of organic farming a policy priority.
One of the Green Deal's goals is to expand by 25% the land used by the EU’s organic farming sector over the next decade.