BOOSTING DEMAND for organic food, as well as raising output levels, are among the central aims of a new Organic Action Plan, to be presented to EU farm ministers in Luxembourg next week (w/e June 25).

“The current market share is on average about 2% in the EU-15,” says the EU Commission document.

“In order to increase this figure, consumers need better information on the principles and objectives of organic farming as well as the positive impact on the environment.”

To achieve this and other objectives, the plan lists 21 different actions, including the launch of a public awareness campaign to explain the benefits of organic farming.

This would be linked to the use of a voluntary EU organic label.

On the supply side, the action plan notes that organic farmers are entitled to the same direct payments as their conventional counterparts.

But it urges member states to make full use of the additional supports under their rural development programmes.

These supports include incentives to convert whole farms rather than individual enterprises, and the provision of national top-ups to organic groups.

It also calls for increased harmonisation of organic standards between member states.

“The internal trade of organic products is hampered by the many different national and private standards and their implementation, which can make it very complicated to sell organic products in other member states.”

The plan also seeks to ensure greater equivalence of standards between imported and EU organic produce.

Farmer organisations have in the main reacted positively to the proposals.

But EU body COPA warned against national support polices leading to distortions of competition among EU farmers and called for stricter import controls.

NFU organic spokesman Peter Hall said the plan, when combined with more statistical data, would allow EU farmers to offer consumers greater choice and a better deal.

In 1985 organic farming was practised on just 100,000ha or 6300 holdings in the EU. By 2002 this had grown to 4.4m hectares, or 3.3% of the total area, on 150,000 holdings.