Science News 07/10/2013

What people think about organic farming and foods?

Why do we buy organic? The first reason for which consumers choose to buy organic products is their concern about the environment, followed by the integrity of these products with regard to GMOs and non-authorised substances’ residues

At the beginning of 2013, the European Commission conducted a public consultation for the review of the European policy on organic agriculture through an online questionnaire. The Commission received close to 45000 replies to the questionnaire including 1450 free contributions from citizens and various stakeholders.
The overwhelming majority (96%) of responses were submitted by EU citizens. Only 4% of the responses were sent by stakeholders, the majority of which were companies (57%), industry associations and NGOs (18%). Among the stakeholders 48% represented farmers, 10% consumers (10%) and 9% processors.
Why do we buy organic? The first reason for which consumers choose to buy organic products is their concern about the environment (83%), followed by the integrity of these products with regard to GMOs and non-authorised substances’ residues (81%).
The majority of interviewees (78%) indicated that they were prepared to pay more for organic goods. Most consumers also consider that the price premium should not be higher than 10-25 %.
Request for harmonised rules at EU level: 74 % of all respondents requested that the European organic standard be strengthened. Around 40% of respondents stated that this should be done by making the rules stricter and/or introducing sanctions (penalties). 22% of interviewees stated that, to make the current European standard more robust, all flexibility should be removed.
61% of the respondents wished for all organic products to be tested for pesticide residues. 25 % of the respondents were against. More than 90% of the interviewees, from almost all countries, representing all groups of stakeholders as well as regular and occasional organic goods’ consumers stated that ‘organic’, by definition, means ‘GMO-free’ and is an critical reason for purchasing these products.
The majority of respondents (68%), from all represented countries and also all types of consumers irrespective of the regularity of their consumption of organic products (70-80%), supported having the same labelling rules for organic products as for conventional products with regard to GMOs.
The majority of respondents (86%), from most of the countries and representing all categories of stakeholders wished to have uniformity of organic rules in all EU countries for European farmers and other operators.
No more exceptions to the rules! : Most of the respondents (61%) were against keeping exemptions from production rules under specific conditions while allowing the certification of such products as organic. 29% of respondents were of the opposite opinion.
Local feed for animals: 49% of respondents stated that organic livestock should be fed with 100% feed from the farm or region. 27% of respondents opted for setting a minimum percentage of feed for organic livestock that should be from the farm or region. 16% of respondents considered that as long as feed is of organic quality, it could come from any location.
The majority of the respondents (66%) indicated that the effective solution for addressing the shortage of organic protein-rich feed in Europe is to introduce in the EU legislation, initiatives to boost European production of organic protein crops. In addition, 61% found that a specific organic protein-crop production strategy should be developed.
Animal welfare is important: More than 60% of respondents strongly insisted on strengthening animal welfare standards for all types of agricultural production systems. A third of respondents (34%) underlined that organic farmers should be obliged to comply with specific rules for animal welfare and 23% considered that animal welfare standards in organic farming should systematically be higher than in conventional farming.
No pesticides: In the view of questioned citizens the strictest rules in terms of authorisation of substances should apply to pesticides and additives. 73% and 67% of respondents requested that respectively pesticides and additives should not be allowed at all in organic farming production. With regards to fertilizers, feed materials, processing aids and products for cleaning and disinfection, the public demanded also strict rules, but to a slightly lesser extent (i.e. around 40% for each of the ratings: 1 and 2) than in the case of pesticides and additives.
Environmental performance of operators should be measured: With regard to environmental performance, a large number of respondents (61%) requested the enforcement of an obligation for processors and traders to implement an environmental management system to measure and evaluate their environmental performance and impacts in addition to other European requirements.
The EU logo is well recognised: The European organic logo was well-known by the public that took part in the public consultation (79%), irrespective of the country of origin or category of stakeholders. The majority of all respondents regardless of the regularity of their consumption of organic products indicated that the two main ways to recognise an organic product was the presence of the national organic logo (66%) and of the European organic logo (66%). In addition, a large number of respondents claimed that they purchase organic products directly from an organic producer without any kind of packaging or labels or by finding the word “organic” on the label.
Consumers trust organic products and insist on efficient controls: 71 % of all respondents, from almost all countries, and representing almost all categories of stakeholders as well as regular and occasional consumers of organic products indicated that they trust organic products. Half (22269) of the respondents knew, but the second half (22577) did not know that organic operators are controlled at least once a year. There was a similar level of awareness among consumers, irrespective of the regularity of their consumption of organic products.
The majority of respondents (57%) disapproved the idea of lowering the number of inspections for organic operators with a proven track record of abiding to the rules. On the contrary, a significant percentage (36%) of the respondents was in favour of a risk-based regularity of organic operators' inspections.
More than half of the interviewees (58%), from almost all countries strongly required to improve the European control system for organic products even if it means an increase in prices. The vast majority of respondents (more than 70%), opted for two improvements, namely better controls on imported organic products and at all levels of the production chain. 50% of the respondents are in favour of the creation of a European database listing all certified organic operators in Europe. More than one third (i.e. 37% of the respondents) were in favour of the development of electronic means to ensure traceability.
Yes to group certification for European farmers: 70% of the respondents favoured the idea of permitting group certification in the EU, which is allowed for organic farmers in some non-EU countries. There were only 17% of responses against group certification.
Yes to imports and exports of organic products: The majority of respondents (65%) from all countries, representing all capacities and categories of stakeholders and irrespective of the regularity of their consumption of organic products requested the opening of the non-EU markets to EU organic products.
According to 72% of the respondents, the most relevant objective for the EU negotiations trade agreements for organic products was to support the development of more sustainable and eco-friendly agricultural practices in other countries. The second objective of great significance to respondents was to encourage organic farmers and other operators from developing countries to expand their production and exports of organic products (52 %).
Request for more information on organic production: A vast majority of respondents (94%) require more information on organic products. The need for more information on organic products was expressed by respondents from every single country, category of stakeholders as well as consumers. A large number of respondents (59%) stated that they did not know about existence of such the EU's organic farming web-site.
More research: The respondents clearly identified four areas which should benefit from more research and innovation into the organic food and farming sector, namely "Economic and social dimension of organic farming" (58%), "Seeds and plant propagating material adapted to low-input agriculture" (52%), "Local production of protein in-rich crops" (48%) and "Waste management".

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