Born from different ways of thinking, organic farming appears in Europe between the two World Wars.
It is driven by agronomists, doctors, farmers or consumers who react against industrialization and materialism that gradually gains agriculture.
It is based on soil preservation, observation and respect of natural balance in order to produce quality food and preserve the autonomy that peasants will gradually lose.
Thus in the aftermath of the First World War, modern agriculture would take off. In the countryside, machines will soon replace animals, and men be called by industries and cities.
Synthetic chemical fertilizers and nitrate industry have new outlets. The same ones that were used to make explosives and bombs during four years of war.
Plenty of promises for an agricultural world with easy-to-use products and increased yields. They augur the specialization of farms in cultivation or breeding in an intensification to the excess.
Meanwhile, Austrian Rudolf Steiner (who died in 1925) was concerned by the growing industrialization of agriculture and foresaw the degeneration of food before the end of the 20th century (PDF).
He elaborates a doctrine: Anthroposophy, wisdom of man, and sets the true targets of an agriculture that reconciliate man and nature.
In Germany, his collaborator Pfeiffer (who died in 1961) develops and studies the influence of cosmic and telluric forces on plants and animals. Hence Biodynamics is born, one of the three currents that presided over the birth of organic farming.
Well established in northern Europe and United States, Biodynamics attaches particular importance to composting, to the use of stimulating plant and mineral preparations, and to the consideration of telluric forces.
The agricultural domain is then considered as a living organism in which man has his place, and his evolution is linked to that of nature.
The productions of dynamics are certified organic, and identified by the Demeter label.
In 1940 the British agronomist Albert Howard published theories on soil fertility, the importance of humus and the use of fertilizers obtained from compostable renewable organic matter. He also questioned the use of chemical mineral fertilizers.
Whatever the current trends in the course of its evolution, organic farming becomes for the peasant a means of recapture and reinventing his profession. Also to preserve autonomy in the face of a “modern” agricultural unique thought domination, and increasingly powerful industrial standard.
The consumer’s approach to food is similar: eating organic food is a way to regain control of one’s plate.
Reasoned agriculture has nothing to do with organic farming. It emerged in the 90s at the initiative of the “Forum for Responsible and Environmentally Friendly Agriculture”, an association made up from phytosanitary industries representatives, agro-food pesticides manufacturers and agricultural unions cooperatives. It does not want to remove chemicals but only to limit their excesses. The measures advocated in its framework are not binding, as well as the non-compliance modalities.
In France, organic farming began its history in the 50s, in a confidential way for a number of years, with farmers and agronomists feeling the limits of chemical agriculture that moves away from the principles of nature.
They are joined by consumers, and doctors worried about emergence of new diseases and cancers increasing number, which they attribute to food industrialization.
In the 60s, two Organic ways of thinking emerged, one of which was represented by farmers who applied the prescriptions of agronomist Jean Boucher and cereal breeder Raoul Lemaire, who had previously worked on improving wheat and bread.
The other historical branch of the Organic came from the association Nature & Progrès founded in 1964, and whose adherents want to be independent. It advocates for agrobiology and its products to consumers and farmers.
With its networks throughout France, this association is at the origin of the Parisian organic fair Marjolaine. Nature & Progrès established itself as a tool for development of organic products, and it will propose the first specifications.
In the 1970s, transforming peasants and militants organized themselves. Professional unions such as FNAB or GRAAB are born.
Held by ecologists who care about their food, the first consumer cooperatives at the origin of Biocoop stores are developing themselves in partnership with farmers in order to offset deficit and cost of products distributed until now by natural health and diet stores.
At the same time, producers set up sales structures for the regional expedition, which will merge and later become platforms for the supply of Biocoop stores.
The positive impacts of organic agriculture on water, soil, biodiversity and landscapes are widely accepted today in Europe and throughout the world through various studies.
Large-scale studies include the findings of over 20 years of observation on experimental plots, published in 2005 by Cornell University:
Beforehand let’s remind that lifestyle which accompanies organic food is based on a low meat diet, giving a large place to the sources of vegetable proteins, notably through the combination of cereals and legumes, fruits, fresh vegetables, and less expensive raw products than meat or processed products.
It’s difficult to compare prices without considering the impact of industrial agricultural production techniques and their economic, social, health and ecological consequences as collective benefits of Agrobiology practices must be taken into account.
For example water: in France, according to studies by the Institute of Environmental Statistics, pesticides are present in two thirds of the controlled networks, resulting in an induced financial consequence: treatment of drinking water, green tides, consumption of bottled water, etc.
In terms of public health, it is now known that conventional farmers are the first victims of pesticides.
Studies also reveal presence of chemical molecules derived from phytosanitary products in our diet and their effects on health are increasing.
The increase of organic market should lower the costs related to manufacturing, logistics and distribution.
Distribution is still too limited, production is scattered throughout the country, transport and logistics costs are higher, and compared to our European neighbors, organic farmers are now less subsidized than conventional farmers.
During all these years of effort in a skeptical, even hostile environment, and without the public authorities’ support, the French bio-planet is working to emerge from marginality. Practices are improving.
It was in July 1980 that French State finally recognized organic farming as a mode of production. A national commission was created to work on the specifications and in 1983 a national AB (for Agriculture Biologique – Organic Agriculture) logo was created.
In 1986, the first national specifications governing organic crops was approved. It was not until 1997 that there was a national development plan. At that time, the Organic represents less than 0.6% of the useful agricultural surface in France. The plan of the Minister of Agriculture Louis le Painsec aims to reach 25,000 organic farms by 2005, or 5% of farmers. But the government has not supported the project sufficiently despite consumers growing demand.
We count today 2% of the total in organic farmers and 2% of the useful agricultural surface in organic farming.
The fact remains that organic farming is currently considered one of the spearheads most successful sustainable agricultural system.
Numerous comparative studies on agricultural practices confirm today the positive of Organic on soils, landscapes and water. All organic production is nowadays framed by a European regulation with the possibility for the states members to decline national texts.
Also called phytosanitary products, they are formulations designed to destroy certain species to the benefit of others. Insecticides against unwanted insects, herbicides against weeds, fungicides against fungi, etc. So many biocides that kill life according to their etymology.
Their use for decades is not without consequence.
Their use has not been reduced over the last 20 years, although other European countries have achieved it: Denmark has decreased by 40% their use between 1987 and 1997 thanks to a proactive policy.
Intensive production systems (monoculture) create favorable conditions for the development of weeds, fungal diseases and pests.
The repeated use of these same substances over large surfaces quickly leads to a resistance phenomenon from the aggressors, leading to an over-bidding of the product and rendering it mostly ineffective (such as antibiotics in medicine).
The advices of phytosanitary products is provided by the same companies that sells them, which does not favor the development of alternatives like Organic!
On environmental and health plan, phytosanitary products cause even more serious issues as they are present everywhere: in water, air and even in the blood and fatty tissues of adults and children, as well as in breast milk. Even before birth, the fetus is contaminated with pesticides.
Market gardening, fruit growing and vineyards, and cereals are among the most heavily processed. The maximum permissible residue limits are largely exceeded in over than a half of the fruits and vegetables consumed.
Studies regularly highlight the toxic effects of certain molecules and more and more scientists are denouncing the long-term repercussions of this invisible pollution: decreased male fertility, birth defects, an increase in the number of certain cancers, hormonal balance, decreased immune defenses.
In 2004 the eminent oncologist Dominique Belpomme, supported by two Nobel prizes and a host of scientists and personalities, launched the Paris Call to alert public opinion and decision-makers about the urgency of the situation: 150,000 signatures have been collected. But in 12 years not much has changed…
Different scientific studies and in particular the 2003 report of the AFSSA (French agency of sanitary safety) have highlighted the high content of organic products in dry matter, in minerals and in vitamins.
They also show that biological pathways make it possible to limit as much as possible the sources of food contamination as well as technological aids with harmful effects that are still poorly known.
For several years Italy has been at the forefront of the organic market with 16% of the total European organic farming area.
Austria holds the maximum area of organic farming in Europe with more than 13% of its national agricultural area. In second place Finland, followed by Sweden and Italy.
France is far behind, in the 18th place, with only 2% of organic farming area!
Organic developments in the EU countries differs according to the commitment of each state member and are linked to aid provided at national or regional level. Aid for organic conversion in France exists since 1992 and is paid for 5 years, for a conversion period of three years depending on the production. A number of countries provide this aid permanently to producers, something that French Organic sphere has long been demanding.
Present throughout the world, Organic is supported by more and more governments and is growing strongly in China. Most of the world’s organic lands are distributed as follows: Australia and Oceania, Europe, Latin America, Asia, North America, Africa.
In poor countries, Organic appears as an opportunity because, being less expensive in sophisticated equipment and products, it therefore is more suited to local resources and know-how.
Organic farms: They employ on average an additional 20 to 30% of labor compared to their equivalent in conventional farming. It takes a week to hoe 1 ha of delicate cultivation by hand for half an hour with an herbicide sprayer.
These additional jobs benefit society as a whole, especially in rural areas and not just in easy access areas. In the middle mountain regions, for example, organic agriculture is particularly well adapted.
Transformation processes: Processing methods in Organic are based on physical and mechanical processes. Respecting the raw material, they preserve as much as possible the taste and nutritional qualities naturally present in the food (vitamins, minerals, etc.).
That’s why organic processed foods display marked flavors and do not try to deceive the senses. Permitted auxiliaries are natural components.
The methods of conservation are natural: pasteurization and sterilization.
Irradiation is prohibited as are chemical preservatives such as nitrites which tend to turn into carcinogenic nitrosamines, or chemical taste enhancers as sodium glutamate. To preserve, one can also use vitamin C or E, antioxidants and to raise the taste, spices, unrefined salt.
Chemical texturing agents are prohibited. Instead, natural substances such as arabic gum can be used.
No artificial flavors or colorings that could be carcinogenic (tartrazin, erythrocytes). Only natural or organic fragrances, natural pigments, as in red beetroot for example, are allowed. Artificial sweeteners do not occur.
Pioneer in this field, organic farmers have long established a particularly rigorous and unique control procedure in the agrifood world.
In the case of a previously conventional farm, a declared transition phase to the inspection body is mandatory. The conversion period is 2 years for annual crops such as market gardening, cereals and meadows. It is only at the end of the second year that the farmer can use the appellation “Organic product” for sale its production. This phase longs 3 years for perennial crops such as fruit trees and vines.
In addition to the annual inspection, 50% of producers and processors receive a surprise visit from the control organism at the expense of the producer. Organics have to pay to prove they do not pollute!
Controllers are themselves subject to obligations and must be approved by the public authorities.