Soil and water

Unlike the United States, Europe is setting itself ambitious goals to produce more organic food

President Joe Biden called for a whole-of-government response to climate change that seeks solutions and opportunities across all sectors of the US economy. This includes agriculture, which emits over 600 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, more than the total national emissions of the UK, Australia, France or Italy.

Recent polls show that a majority of Americans are concerned about climate change and ready to make lifestyle changes to deal with it. Other surveys show that many U.S. consumers are concerned about the potential health risks of consuming foods produced with pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones.

One way to address all of these concerns is to expand organic farming. Organic production generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional agriculture, largely because it does not use synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. And it prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and the giving of hormones or antibiotics to livestock.

But the United States is not currently setting the bar high for growing its organic sector. Across the Atlantic, Europe has a much more targeted and aggressive strategy.

The EU farm-to-fork plan

The European Union’s farm-to-fork strategy, often described as the heart of the European Green Deal, was adopted in 2020 and strengthened in October 2021. It sets ambitious targets for 2030: a reduction of 50 % of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, a reduction in the use of pesticides and a 20% reduction in the use of fertilizers.

Recognizing that organic production can make an important contribution to these goals, the policy calls for increasing the percentage of EU farmland under organic management from 8.1% to 25% by 2030. The European Parliament adopted a detailed biological plan to achieve this goal.

Today, the United States is the largest organic market in the world, with $ 51 billion in sales in 2019. But the EU is not far behind, with $ 46 billion, and if it meets its targets from farm to fork, it will likely become the world leader.

And this ambition is reflected in national food policies. For example, in Copenhagen, 88% of the ingredients in the meals served in the city’s 1,000 public schools are organic. Likewise, in Italy, school meals in more than 13,000 schools across the country contain organic ingredients.

US strategy is technology driven

Unlike the EU, the US does not have a national plan to develop organic production, nor even a plan to develop a plan.

Less than 1% of farmland in the United States, or about 5.6 million acres (2.3 million hectares), is cultivated to national organic standards, compared to 36 million acres (14.6 million hectares). ‘hectares) in the EU. This small industry does not produce enough organic food to meet consumer demand, so much of the organic food consumed in the United States is imported from nearly 45,000 foreign operations. While the U.S. government tracks imports of just 100 organic food items – a small chunk of what goes in – spending in 2020 on these items alone has exceeded $ 2.5 billion.

I see this gap as a huge missed opportunity. President Biden called for a ‘Buy American’ strategy to support the US economy, but today consumers are spending money on organic imports without reaping the environmental or economic benefits of having more land under management. biological. Increased domestic production would improve soil and water quality and create jobs in rural areas.

As the US and the EU work together to address the contribution of agriculture to climate change, they have very different views on the role of organic farming. At a United Nations Food Systems Summit on September 23, 2021, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack launched a new international coalition on sustainable productivity growth, calling on countries and organizations to join with states – United in the cause of increasing yields to feed a growing world population. In his press briefings, Vilsack promoted voluntary, incentive and technological approaches to producing more food, such as gene editing, precision farming and artificial intelligence.

Vilsack says the European Union’s focus on organic production will reduce production and push up food prices. This argument reflects a long-standing debate about whether organic farming can produce enough food to meet demand while using fewer chemical inputs.

The strongest support for the USDA strategy comes as no surprise. It comes mainly from conventional farm groups, including Syngenta, Bayer and Corteva, three of the world’s four largest agrochemicals, as well as their lobbying arm, CropLife America.

Patrick Barbour, winner of a climate-friendly agriculture competition sponsored by the National Farmers Union of Scotland, explains the steps he is taking on his organic sheep and beef farm to reduce carbon emissions and provide environmental benefits.

More organic does not mean going back

In my opinion, these American talking points are outdated. The world’s farmers are already producing enough food to feed the world. The question is why so many people still go hungry as production increases year after year.

At the United Nations Food Systems Summit, many world leaders called for reforms to end hunger, poverty and inequality, and tackle climate change. Food systems experts understand that global nutrition security depends on empowering women, eliminating corruption, tackling food waste, preserving biodiversity and embracing production. environmentally friendly, including organic farming. Not on the list: increase yields.

Addressing the role of agriculture in climate change means changing the way nations produce, process, transport, consume and waste food. I believe that when leaders call for cutting-edge science-based solutions, they must embrace and support a wide range of sciences, including agroecology, sustainable agriculture that works with nature and reduces reliance on external inputs like fertilizers and pesticides.

The Biden-Harris administration could do this by developing a comprehensive plan to realize the untapped potential of organic farming, with clear goals and strategies to increase organic production and, with it, the number of organic farmers. Consumers are ready to buy what American organic farmers harvest.

Kathleen Merrigan is Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University.

Disclosure statement: Kathleen Merrigan heads the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University, which receives funding from the Organic Trade Association. She is co-director of a project on accidental chemical contamination of organic crops funded by the US Department of Agriculture. Merrigan is a member of the advisory committee of the Foundation for Research in Organic Agriculture. She is also an advisor to S2G Ventures and Venture Partner at Astanor Ventures, two agrotech companies that have organic companies in their much larger portfolios. As a member of the United States Senate, Merrigan drafted the Organic Food Production Act 1990. She served on the National Organic Standards Board, as administrator of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Department and as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture.

Republished with permission from The Conversation.


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