Organic food: what if smoky labels were removed?

Ecotone is a Dutch food group which brings together many organic and / or vegetarian brands, such as Bonneterre, Bjorg, Alter Eco or Clipper. It is B-Corp certified. On the occasion of the 20e edition of the World Organic Congress, which is being held this week in Rennes, its president, Christophe Barnouin, speaks in “l’Obs”.

Today, no less than 29 appellations and labels claim environmental benefits. This panoply of new logos is supposed to promote agricultural practices that are more respectful of the environment and to reassure consumers in their choices. However, apart from the “organic” label, none of these labels guarantees cultivation without chemical pesticides. In this, they considerably slow down the transition towards a sustainable model and maintain an ambient vagueness on these questions.

So, how do you navigate between “sustainable agriculture”, “zero pesticide residue”, or the recent “HVE”? While the World Organic Congress is being held in Rennes, the path towards transforming our agrifood model towards a more sustainable model is proving to be long and winding. The fault in particular with an outbidding of promises on the packaging of food products which reinforces the embarrassment and the mistrust of the consumers. Example: the High Environmental Value (HVE) label has been heavily criticized by experts and NGOs, denouncing a “Greenwashing Trojan horse”. Is right. The HVE formulation is misleading. Unlike organic farming, it does not prohibit the use of chemical inputs. A farm can thus be certified HVE by spreading these products, which are harmful to our planet and our health. 150 pages of HVE specifications for a label that is ultimately not very restrictive …

Alongside the organic label, many private labels that are added to organic certification or are content with positive mentions have appeared in recent years.

We must therefore get out of this escalation of new labels if we want to accelerate the transition to an agro-food model that respects biodiversity. This model must be based on organic and vegetal. A more assertive will on the part of the public authorities would be welcome: organic farming represents only 2% of the budget of the common agricultural policy of the European Union (CAP) in force, and 8.5% of agricultural land in France today. If the new CAP 2023-2027 plans to strengthen conversion aid, organic farmers who have already converted their farms will go from an average of 220 euros in support per hectare to 70 euros. Faced with the immense environmental challenges that stand before us, our public policy must be up to the challenges.

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A responsibility that the food sector must also seize by promoting virtuous and recognized labels. This must work hand in hand with the public authorities to establish, for example, a moratorium on lower-priced labels and make the specifications of the “organic farming” (AB) label the single, clear and demanding reference point while at the same time. strengthening to make it even more virtuous. Let us encourage the agricultural world to convert, and value its efforts and the positive environmental consequences that result from it. Let us also continue to promote the development of an agri-food model to which the French massively adhere. According to the latest figures from Agence Bio, organic consumption increased by 10.4% in 2020 compared to 2019. 86% of French people believe that organic farming contributes to preserving the environment, and 8 out of 10 French people consider that organic products are better for health. I am convinced that food that is beneficial to humans and nature requires the choice of organic and vegetal… and a demanding label.

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