All about organic: the reassuring manifesto

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A new media campaign called All about bio is launched this Thursday, October 3 by the network Les Entreprises Bio Engagées. Objective ? To answer questions such as Are pesticides yes or no authorized in organic farming? Is organic food really better for your health? Can we trust imported organic products? How is livestock farming organic? What justifies the prices of organic products? How can an organic product be badly or over-packaged? Organic or local: how to choose?... A campaign that is in fact a complete and essential analysis explaining why France is the second biggest consumer of organic products in Europe.

Today, nearly three quarters of French people consume organic food on a regular basis. France is the second most organic-consuming European country after Germany. Like any fast-growing sector, organic farming is attracting new offers and is giving rise to the creation of competing labels, with the confusion and controversy that this entails. Through this new campaign, Les Entreprises Bio Engagées answers the legitimate questions of the citizens.
In this campaign, which starts on October 3, 2019, Les Entreprises Bio Engagées are tackling all subjects to clarify what organic guarantees - or not - making it a solid and readable benchmark for citizens. Nearly twenty crucial questions with their answers will be published in full on the website www.toutsurlabio.fr and as the days go by on social networks (Facebook and Twitter). The answers given also address points of progress, in a spirit of clarity and continuous improvement.

Who are Les Entreprises Bio Engagées?

It is a collective of companies committed to the development of a coherent, demanding and sustainable organic. Diverse in terms of their professions, sectors and products - and sometimes even competitors - they claim to share a common good: organic. For them, organic is more than a logo on a product. It is the best way to give meaning and value to our agriculture and our food. This collective aims to answer every question in all transparency and honesty. Their answers are based on scientific analyses or studies that are references in the field. All sources are cited.

Often pioneers in the sector, Les Entreprises Bio Engagées have been active in the organic sector for thirty years, some of them out of passion as much as conviction. The organic specifications that they respect (AB label "exclusive property of the Ministry of Agriculture" and the Eurofeuille, European label), constitute, according to them, a basis of good practices common to all those involved in the sector. It must evolve in a process of continuous improvement, but must also be protected and defended. Indeed, although organic farming is not perfect to date, it remains a unique model due to the extent of its criteria, a major transition lever for a healthier world that respects natural balances.

For Les Entreprises Bio Engagées, "organic represents more than a logo on a product: it is a vision of the world, a culture and concrete commitments. »

The brands of the Les Entreprises Bio Engagées collective

Com' operation for the "new bio industrialists" or true values?

The collective has created a manifesto. Pioneering companies in the sector, they have committed themselves to organic farming out of passion as much as conviction. They believe that organic agriculture and food is the best way to protect the environment, bring the soil back to life, preserve biodiversity and respect human health. Environmental emergencies, studies on the consequences of pesticides or the disappearance of species seem to prove them right today.

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The organic label is the only one to combine requirements concerning both the agricultural production method, livestock farming and product processing and to do so for all agricultural sectors. This is why the collective is determined to firmly defend its specifications, which constitute a basis for good practices common to all stakeholders in the sector. For if organic farming has long represented a niche, it now attracts millions of consumers but also many new players. This democratisation of the market is good news, since these companies have always wanted organic to be accessible to the greatest number.

However, it will only remain so if organic farming knows how to preserve the values and uses that make it special and interesting: care taken with product quality, fairness in relations between producers, processors and distributors, and control of environmental impacts.
For this, the collective is convinced that the rules governing the European organic label must not only be protected but also extended. A collective of processing and distribution companies that have long invested in organic products, these companies are committed to constantly improving our practices in terms of environmental impact, commercial equity, working conditions and social involvement.
For them, organic represents more than a logo on a product: it is a vision of the world, a culture and concrete commitments. For them, the organic they defend is coherent, demanding and sustainable.

Organic: opportunistic or committed?

The organic sector is becoming increasingly successful in France: the second largest organic consumer in Europe after Germany, France represents 10 % of the world market - or 9.7 billion euros in 2018. This trend is growing. It is a satisfaction for all, companies committed and convinced since the beginning - when organic farming was not of great interest to many people... But it is also good news for the health of consumers, the environment and farmers: today, nearly three quarters of French people eat organic food regularly and this farming method occupied 7.5 % of the useful agricultural surface in 2018.

These market developments are not the only ones: while the organic sector has long seen the predominance of small independent players, it is now attracting new entrants, including large cooperatives and multinationals in the conventional food industry as well as supermarkets and their procession of "private labels". For organic success to continue, the values and good practices that make it special must be preserved. For Les Entreprises Bio Engagées, organic is much more than a label on a product in a juicy market: it is a community of actors - producers, storage companies, processors, distributors and consumers - who come together around concrete commitments. These commitments concern the development of the sector as well as environmental protection and fair trade. For example, the Bioed (Bio Entreprise Durable) company label, which is carried by Synabio, the union of organic companies, is a tool that enables people to come together around these values translated into good practices.

This common culture and this ambition of continuous improvement of the organic professions and products must guide the development of organic farming so that it retains its meaning. Consumers have a key role to play by favouring products and distribution channels that embody these values.

Sources :
- Bioed: https://bioed.fr

- Synabio: https://www.synabio.com/

What's organic? What the specifications say (and don't say)

The European logo (Eurofeuille) and the AB logo (property of the French Ministry of Agriculture) provide the same overall guarantees and both refer to one and the same requirements specification community. These specifications are defined by regulations adopted by the Member States and the European Parliament. It is public and is regularly updated. It defines stringent production rulesThese are based on respect for ecosystems and natural cycles: synthetic chemicals and GMOs are banned; crop rotation is compulsory and the recycling of plant and animal by-products is favoured.

Livestock farming practices are also strictly controlled: densities (number of animals per m²) are systematically lower than conventional ones, the animals must have access to the outdoors and are fed locally produced organic feed as much as possible.

Finally, processed products must contain at least 95 % of organic ingredients. Only natural flavours and 54 additives are allowed (compared to more than 300 in conventional products). All professionals in the sector - farmers, processors and distributors - are subject to controls at least once a year, carried out by the public authorities or approved independent certification bodies. Each year, these bodies carry out additional checks, which may be unannounced. To qualify for the organic label, producers must undergo a two-year conversion period (three years for perennial crops).

Organic farming is therefore a demanding approach in terms of environmental protection, consumer health and product quality. However, the specifications do not address all the issues that guarantee more sustainable agriculture and food. Other issues are also essential for the collective: farmers' remuneration, social impact, reduction of packaging or the carbon footprint of products. Therefore, many organic companies are setting up initiatives in this area with the intention of including these good practices in the requirements of the European regulation in the future.

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Is organic food really better for your health?

While there is no doubt about the influence of diet on health, it is very difficult to prove the cause and effect relationship scientifically. In the case of organic food, we rely mainly on epidemiological studies: we do not prove causality, but we measure the frequency of diseases in the populations we monitor. This is one of the reasons why we are cautious in our discourse on the subject. One thing is certain: the latest serious studies are very positive and encourage people to choose organic.

The NutriNet-Santé study (and its Bionutrinet component), which has been following more than 60,000 people since 2009, has shown that high organic consumers (versus low or non-consumers) :

There are two strong hypotheses that can explain these results: the level of antioxidants in organic products and the smallest traces of pesticide residues. An English study conducted by the University of Newcastle found that conventional crops contained four times more pesticide residues than organic crops. However, the recent research on pesticide exposures have been shown to negatively impact at least two major health risks: obesity and type II diabetes on the one hand, and in utero brain development and early childhood development on the other.
All these arguments explain why Santé Publique France - the French public health agency under the supervision of the Ministry of Health - is now recommending that organic fruit and vegetables be favoured.

Should we also favour organic for processed products?

Generally speaking, processed products can have two shortcomings: their nutritional profile and their additives. This is particularly true in conventional products: more than 300 additives are authorised compared to 54 in organic products!
In organic farming, processed products must meet much stricter specifications. They must contain at least 95 % of ingredients of organic agricultural origin (excluding water, salt and additives). The remaining 5 % are limited to a restrictive list of ingredients that are not available organically.
Furthermore, the European regulation severely restricts the use of additives. It also bans artificial flavourings, GMOs and irradiated ingredients. Finally, only certain processing aids (vegetable oil, beeswax) are authorised, which prevents the use of processes such as the hydrogenation of fats or the extraction of oils with hexane (a solvent resulting from synthetic chemistry).

Thus, in organic farming, the possibilities for processing - let alone ultra-processing - are limited due to the limited number of authorised additives and processing aids. Without even mentioning other environmental benefits of organic farming, these elements make the choice between a conventionally processed product and an organically processed product quite obvious. However, this does not mean that the latter are completely free of defects from a strictly nutritional point of view. Consumers should therefore be encouraged to read the labels to find out more about the level of sugar, fat, salt, etc.

Can imported organic products be trusted?

Both the European organic logo (Euroleaf) and the AB logo refer to the Community specifications. The rules are the same in all EU countries. What about products of non-European origin imported into Europe? In order to be labelled "organic", they must comply with a set of specifications providing guarantees equivalent to the European rules in terms of production and controls. These controls are carried out by independent bodies accredited by the European Union*.

The rules are therefore clear and rigorous, regardless of the origin of the products. There will always be a risk that they will not be applied in the same way everywhere. However, a 2019 report from the Court of Auditors indicates that the EU control system has improved since the previous audit in 2012, and suggests further improvements to prevent possible weaknesses. On the ground, Member States are at the forefront of ensuring the compliance of imported products. In France, it is the fraud squad that carries out numerous checks and analyses on organic products in ports and airports. Companies are also mobilising by carrying out their own audits of their suppliers and by carrying out analyses on their products.
Finally, it should be pointed out that all these controls only concern the requirements of the European Organic Regulation. However, at present, it does not deal with certain important subjects: working conditions or remuneration of producers in particular. A consumer concerned about these aspects will turn to organic brands that provide additional guarantees in terms of corporate social responsibility (CSR) or fair trade. For example, this is what the Bioed label (Bio Entreprise Durable), developed and distributed by the union of organic food companies (Synabio), offers, which makes it possible to work towards the coherence of organic supply chains, or the Biopartenaire label, which certifies organic and fair trade products.

* Except in the case of specific agreements with certain countries such as Israel, Chile or the United States which organise the controls themselves.

Are pesticides allowed or not in organic farming?

"Pesticides" (or "plant protection products") is a generic term for products used to control living harmful organisms. They are sometimes necessary to protect crops, including organic crops. The question is rather: which pesticides? For here lies the essential difference between modes of production: whereas conventional agriculture uses synthetic chemical pesticides, organic agriculture uses treatments of natural origin*.

In the end, according to European regulations, only 29 substances or categories of substancesAll of them, all natural, can come into direct contact with plants in organic production (Annex II of the European regulation).. This compares to no more than 460 substances authorised in conventional agriculture which are essentially derived from synthetic chemistry. The natural treatments used in organic farming may be of plant origin (in the form of oils), animal origin (beeswax), derived from micro-organisms used in biological control or made up of natural substances such as copper, clays or potassium bicarbonate. It should be noted that just because the source is natural does not mean that some of these substances are not toxic. Nature misused can also be dangerous!
This is particularly the case with copper or spinosad, which must be used with care.

Herbicides are prohibited in organic farming: undesirable plants are controlled by crop rotation, mechanical tillage and thermal weeding. Overall, organic farming therefore promotes a more cautious approach, based on good practices that allow treatments to be used only as a last resort.

* With the sole exception of insect traps for which two chemical insecticides are allowed.

Employment and working conditions: what does organic guarantee?

The European organic regulation does not include a social aspect. It is therefore not in itself an indicator of working conditions on farms or in companies. However, in order to participate in the development of a coherent and sustainable sector, many organic companies have committed themselves to go beyond the specifications and are themselves implementing social and environmental responsibility (SER) approaches. These concern areas as diverse as working conditions, social dialogue and corporate governance. The Bioed or B Corp company labels are examples among others of these commitments.

Apart from these CSR good practices, we note a significant social impact of organic farming: it is structurally a job creator! Indeed, for the same structure, an organic farm generates on average 30 % more jobs that a conventional farm (1). A difference that is explained by the requirements of the specifications, which require more work. If we take into account the fact that organic farms often develop direct sales and/or on-farm processing, we then arrive at a 60 % higher amount of work than conventional ones. Note: Studies on job quality show that job satisfaction in organic farming is increased as a result of material, symbolic and social recognition.

The growth of the organic sector obviously has a positive impact on these direct jobs (2) Between 2012 and 2017, they grew at a rate of 9.5 % per year! In 2017, direct employment on organic farms and in processing and distribution companies was estimated at 134,500. While conventional agriculture tends to recruit less and less, organic farming is therefore a chance to bring life back to rural areas. Indeed, today, 80% of the organic products consumed in France (excluding exotic products) are made from French agricultural raw materials. Cocoribio!

Sources :

(1) Bio and employment / NAC opinion (2015)
(2) Bioed : https://bioed.fr
B Corp : https://bcorporation.eu/about-b-lab/country-partner/france
Another mode of governance at Biocoop: https://www.wedemain.fr/Holacratie-ces-Biocoop-bretonnes-ont-abandonne-lahierarchie_a3728.html

What do we know about the carbon footprint of bio?

Unfortunately, we don't know enough! Studies are lacking and those that do exist are subject to debate. The knowledge that is available today concerns agriculture in general. We know that it accounts for nearly a quarter of the world's anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These are emissions of methane (CH4) from livestock farming, nitrous oxide (N2O) from agricultural soils and carbon dioxide (CO2) from energy use.
On the other hand, studies of GHG emissions in organic farming - which are mainly derived from modelling and life cycle analyses - show variable results that do not allow firm conclusions to be drawn.

Organic agriculture is known to be less energy-consuming than conventional agriculture, in particular because it does not use synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers. According to some studies, it also emits less GHGs per unit of production, but this advantage is offset by a lower yield and therefore a greater need for land. A overview of existing studies emissions in 2017* thus concluded to equivalent CO2 emissions in the two agricultural systems. Further studies are needed to confirm or refute these data.

As for the benefits of carbon sequestration, the issue is not yet decided either. Numerous studies have clearly shown that soils managed with organic practices have a higher organic carbon content. However, the potential for climate change mitigation through carbon storage in agricultural soils is still under discussion, and therefore cannot be put to good use by organic farming.

* Meta-analysis of 742 agricultural systems and over 90 unique foods produced primarily in input systems / Clark, M., & Tilman.

References :

- Study in English on the performance of organic agriculture : https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/3/e1602638

https://www.iddri.org/sites/default/files/PDF/Publications/Hors%20catalogue%20Iddri/Empreinte-Carbone_Alimentation_France_VF_0.pdf

- Carbon footprint of our food / Ademe : https://presse.ademe.fr/2019/02/infographie-lempreinte-ecologique-de-notre-alimentation.html

Too many labels kill the label?

In France, there are dozens of labels, official or not, which distinguish and enhance the specificity of a product: its origin (AOC, PDO, French meat), its production method (free-range poultry) or its taste quality (Label Rouge). Some now also promote good environmental practices.

The private label "zero pesticide residues", for example, which is mainly found on fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves, guarantees products with pesticide residues below 10 mg/kg (i.e. a level below which analyses are no longer reliable). However, unlike organic produce, this label does not prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, which remain authorised for at least part of the production cycle, with all the questions that this raises in terms of soil, water and air pollution.

High Environmental Value (HVE) is a three-stage certification, the third level of which entitles the product to a logo. The rules for obtaining it are complex, but the general idea is to meet several criteria in terms of pesticide reduction, preservation of biodiversity, and water and fertilization management.

Some of its practices are virtuous: crop diversification, the use of biological control, or the integration of legumes. On the other hand, other issues such as farming conditions or product manufacturing are absent from its specifications.

And the organic farming label? It is the only one to combine requirements in three areas:
the agricultural production method (ban on synthetic pesticides, crop rotation) ;
animal welfare (limitation of densities, access to the outdoors, ban on hormones);
product processing (restriction on additives and processing aids).

Finally, it is an official label, subject to annual control by certifying bodies approved by the public authorities. Its specifications [see question] can be consulted and are open to all.

References :
- Article on the "zero pesticide residue" label : https://reporterre.net/Lelabel-Zero-residu-de-pesticides-du-mieux-mais-pas-bio

To ask all your questions: www.toutsurlabio.fr 

Source Manifesto : Manifesto The Organic Companies Committed

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