- 1 Executive Summary
- 2 Introduction
- 3 The Benefits of Organic Production
- 4 The Limits of Organic Production
- 5 Lack of Control, a Lot of Corruption
- 6 Solutions to the Limits
- 7 Conclusion
- 8 Bibliography
Food is one of the basic needs of human beings, the first element of Maslow’s needs pyramid (Figure 1 in the appendix). One could then believe that the world, with its dizzying and successive evolutions, has long since been able to meet this essential need wherever it may be on the planet. The least we can say is that this is not the case. Faced with the world population growth that began in the 19th century, the second industrial revolution and accelerated urbanization, consumption patterns have undergone an unprecedented transformation, with the generalization of the industrial agricultural model, the emergence of brands and distribution networks. The extremely high demand after the Second World War pushed food manufacturers to go ever further in their quest for productivity and profitability. Intensive cultivation, deforestation, widespread use of chemicals from production to processing, commodity speculation, etc.
While these developments have unequivocally facilitated Western populations’ access to varied and cheap food, they have been at the expense of peasant agriculture in both Western and Southern countries, with enormous pressure on small producers who have had to comply with the ever more stringent requirements of European supermarkets. These developments in the agri-food sector have also been detrimental to nature, with the intensive cultivation of limited varieties of food, leading to soil depletion, deforestation, accelerated extinction of animal species and thousands, if not millions, of edible plant species. In addition, the agri-food industry has a major responsibility for the depletion of the world’s water resources, and the emission of greenhouse gases. To check this last point, just look at the number of trucks that travel every day on our highways, carrying tomatoes from Spain or asparagus from Argentina. It is from these observations that the idea of a more environmentally friendly agriculture was born, producing healthy food, allowing producers to live with dignity, and sold at a fair price. An agriculture without chemicals, favoring the natural rhythm of crops, open-air breed’ing ensuring animal welfare, short circuits, a ban on the use of GMOs, and with as few intermediaries as possible between producer and consumer.
Today more than ever, we are aware that our well-being, our beauty, and above all… our health depend on our food. And for those who are still hesitating, all they have to do is turn on their TV to learn that they must eat ‘5 fruits and vegetables a day’ (Mosley, 2013), that omega 3s help limit heart and vascular disease and that lactic ferments strengthen our immune defenses. From now on, eating is no longer only synonymous with eating, but also with healing.
In addition, 2019 was marked by a growing concern of the French for the environment and ecology, which are now in the top 3 of French concerns.
It is crucial to know what ‘organic food’ means, what is the difference with normal products. Organic farming, through its original production methods, without synthetic chemicals, is truly at the crossroads of these two societal trends. On the one hand, it respects the planet and its inhabitants and, on the other hand, it produces healthy and natural food that respects our health. However, only 4 out of 10 French people consume products from organic farming at least once a month. It is interesting to know if Is organic agriculture a sustainable development for France? Is it possible, why don’t all French people consume organic products? To answer this question, we will first look in a first part at the benefits of organic farming in detail. In the second part, we will see that there are, however, many limits to organic farming in France. Finally, we will look at the solutions that each stakeholder can provide to achieve an even more sustainable organic agriculture. in France.
The Benefits of Organic Production
Organic food products have many benefits. The organic market has been growing rapidly for years, both worldwide and in France. We can even say that it has certainly become fashionable these days to buy green. In stores, we can see more and more special ‘organic’ departments. Entire stores have been created and have been a resounding success, based on the principle of providing organic and natural products from sustainable sources. Companies know that consumers want to buy organic products and that a sufficient number of them are willing to pay more, which encourages market growth because we will see in a second part that organic products can have consumption limits, particularly due to high prices.
This expansion is explained by the figures I was able to obtain from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). In 2018, France had 1.8 million hectares of organic agriculture, a 250% increase since 2007. With this figure, France is now the third largest country in the European Union (agriculture.gouv, 2018) In addition, France is ranked 7th in the world in the ranking of the best organic agricultural areas in the world after Australia, Argentina, the United States and Spain (agriculture.gouv, 2018) (ifoam.bio, 2018)As in the United States, the trend towards organic food is changing in France. The growth of the organic market in France has been constant over the last decade with a growth of 22% in 2016 (ifoam.bio, 2018) In addition, according to the annual consumption barometer of the Agence Bio, a public body responsible for monitoring the evolution of organic farming and consumption in France, in 2019, 71% of French people consume organic products at least once a month and 12% every day.
Finally, there is also a decrease in the number of people who say they never consume organic products: In 2018, nearly nine out of ten French people (88%) say they have consumed organic products. ‘The market for organic food products is growing rapidly, with habits and consumption patterns that are tending to change radically,’ notes Agence Bio (Biologique).
Organic Agriculture is a Sustainable Approach to Our Planet
First, from a scientific perspective, some scientists are concerned about the effects that food can have on our health and environment, which has explained the success of organic products for years. Organic farmers use natural products such as organic compost and natural fertilizers. The advantage is that by using natural products, farmers respect the biodiversity of the soil and thus allow insects (such as earthworms) (Cohen, 2019)to live, which have a very important role in soil regeneration. We have just seen that pesticides are the main cause of the negative effects of agriculture on the environment. As a reminder, pesticides are used to accelerate production. We must therefore agree to produce less if we want 100% organic agriculture without pesticides. However, for this to be effective, it is necessary to reduce the use of pesticides worldwide. However, it is not that simple. Indeed, it is estimated that agricultural production will double because the world population will double. It is therefore necessary to double the agricultural area, which is of course possible, but it should not be forgotten that increasing the agricultural area is the result of a significant encroachment on forests. This will result in the loss of animals and greenery around the world. (Locwin, 2014) The second problem is that to increase yields, it is necessary to use pesticides and fertilizers, but they are not good for the environment because they pollute the environment and kill insects (Justine, 2018). And in the regions of France, yields are already depleting the soil, so we need to use less.
Organic Products are Highly Appreciated by French Consumers
According to studies conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), only 2% of the biological samples analysed by France contained traces of pesticides, compared to 37.74% of fruit and vegetables from intensive agriculture (efsa, 2019)(of which more than 3.1% contained quantities exceeding the limits imposed by law). On average, consumers are therefore 18 times more likely to find a pesticide residue in a food from intensive agriculture than in a food from organic farming.
- Tastier (58% of French people consume it for: the quality, the taste of the products)
Indeed, fruits and vegetables from organic market gardening are harvested more ripe and therefore have time to concentrate on the aromas, which gives a more delicious taste (Biologique).
In addition, food grown in the fields grows with the sun, morning dew and gets its nutrients and water from the soil, unlike intensive agricultural foods which are increasingly grown above ground or in soils that use pesticides. As a result, they contain less water, more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
- Better for the environment (56%: to preserve the environment)
Organic farming protects the soil and limits erosion (Douarin, 2017). The massive amount of pesticides and chemical fertilizers used kills soil and biodiversity. The result is compact and lifeless soils, which create erosion from the first rainfall. Organic agriculture, on the one hand, uses organic animal or vegetable matter. On the other hand, the organic farmer does not use chemical fertilizers and alternates crops on the same plot to preserve the soil. In addition, organic farming preserves water. Indeed, since the products are grown according to their season, water needs are lower and organic farming therefore requires less irrigation (ladepeche.fr, 2018). In contrast to conventional agriculture, which, through the irrigation of intensive monocultures, releases water polluted by chemicals into the soil. In fact, Organic agriculture makes it possible to preserve water quality, and can for example avoid water treatment costs. In Munich, an experiment conducted since 1991 has shown that organic farming can reduce water treatment costs from 27 to 1 euro cent per m3. (MEIFFREN Isabelle, 2009)
- Better quality. Recent food scandals (especially videos in fast foods such as the Dominos scandal) (ODOLA, 2018), obesity and social networks through prevention videos have taught us to be wary of what we eat and to favor quality food. Organic products are a quality product: organic farms are regularly monitored to verify producers practices, as well as all levels of production (processors, distributors, etc.). Indeed, GMOs are prohibited in fields and in animal feed. In organic products, synthetic dyes and preservatives are prohibited. In addition, organic farming favors local species and breeds, old varieties, for more food quality and taste (Wier, 2002).
The Limits of Organic Production
The Key Figures
Despite its benefits, organic agriculture, like all things, knows its limits. 84% is the percentage of people who find organic products too expensive.
Organic food is more expensive (Biologique). A recent study by the consumer association ‘Que Choisir’ showed that an average annual basket of fruit and vegetables for a household costs on average €368 per year in normal agriculture and €660 in organic agriculture, a difference of €292. (europarl, 2018). Several factors explain the higher costs of organic farming. Because fewer fertilizer and pesticides are used and less antibiotics are used for livestock, yields are lower. In addition, organic farming requires fewer machines and therefore more labour. In addition, organic fertilizers are more expensive than chemical fertilizers. Organic farmers must be certified by the inspection bodies and to have them inspected, they must pay. Organic production takes place on small farms, which limits the possibility of reducing costs by producing on a large scale. Distribution is also more expensive: to prevent organic products from being mixed with other products, a separate circuit is necessary.
62% of French people doubt that the product is totally organic. However, they want more transparency on product regulation and control (Biologique). 51% of French people say they do not have sufficient information on the origin of organic products, 63% on the regulations governing organic farming, and 63% on the control of organic products. (Locwin, 2014)The Agence Bio also notes that the perception of better preservation of the nutritional qualities of organic products shows ‘a significant decrease among all French people, while recent studies show the benefits’.
37% of French people do no have consumption reflex & 27% offer that does not meet needs. The French do not think about buying organic products. (Biologique) This behaviour is explained by the fact that the French do not want to change their eating habits. First, they find that the organic products offered in the stores do not meet their needs.
The Limits in Detail
The first reason why the French do not consume organic products is that they find them too expensive and of poor quality. In fact, 84% of French people think that organic products are too expensive. First, the reason is that prices tend to be higher due to lower average yields when switching to organic farming, and an increased risk of crop failure. Secondly, others say that ‘organic’ has become a green luxury brand, but this seems contradictory to the second element of this point, which is that organic is of inferior quality.
Many pesticides are used to make products presentable and edible and to prevent them from rotting on the branches. Many people have an emotional approach to eating, which is why its presentation is important. Organic buyers have other emotional stimuli that allow them to see beyond the lower quality.
The second reason why organic products should not be consumed and why humanitarian rights are not taken into account and promote child labour in Africa. This is an endemic problem in many subsistence farming communities in Africa. An International Labour Organization article shows child labour in Africa by gender and type of agriculture (organization, 2010)The logic is very clear. Only 7.03% of agricultural land (Eurostat, 2019) is cultivated ecologically in Europe, while the market for organic products is growing much faster. African family farms are organic by default (due to the high cost of pesticides and fertilizers as well as pressure from EU import and export regulators, which are depriving African agriculture of the benefits of modern technologies such as GMOs (MP, 2015). While the focus has been on child labour in West African cocoa production, Europe’s inability to feed itself has led to an increase in African exports of organic agricultural products. Consumers seem satisfied with the refusal to acknowledge this correlation when choosing organic products, saying they do not support the practice of manually pulling weeds or leaves infested with pests into small hands rather than sending them to school (organization, 2010).
No difference for taste and health. This aspect has consumers as its main stakeholder. Indeed, taste is an emotional factor. However, several studies show that people could not tell the difference between organic and non-organic products in blind tests (Locwin, 2014). When it comes to health, people believe in what they are told and what is broadcast in reports and advertisements without really being interested and having the right information. Indeed, « There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re adult and making a decision based solely on your health » said Dena Bravata (one of the author of a paper comparing the nutrition of organic and non-organic foods). (BRANDT, 2012)
Lack of Control, a Lot of Corruption
‘Organic farming is first and foremost an obligation of means and not of results,’ says Stéphanie Pageot, president of the Fédération nationale d’agriculture biologique (Cohen, 2019). In other words, the European label (star leaf on apple green background, see Figure 2) does not certify that this product is free of any pesticide but that the producer applies the conditions for growing without GMOs, pesticides or chemical fertilisers and the conditions for feeding animals with a partially organic but not fully organic food. What do you mean, what do you mean? It is very simple, the farmer stipulates that a certifying body has come to verify, during a scheduled or unannounced inspection, that the rules have been respected. But these are considered insufficient by some farmers who campaign for other more demanding labels. For example, in France, in the Champagne Ardenne region, an ‘organic’ farmer who did not want to give his name, claims himself that his land is poorly controlled. Indeed, the body in charge of monitoring organic land has only checked part of the fields (1m by 1m) to verify that the farmer is indeed growing organic products. For this reason, it only controls one part and this part can fortunately be filled with insects, as we have seen previously, organic and synthetic soil is different by the insects found there. If a soil is full of insects, it is called ‘organic’. However, this farmer claims to have used pesticides and fertilizers to accelerate the growth of these products. As the researchers only found insects on part of the field by chance, they validated the control and certified that this farmer was organic.
Lack of transparency and packaging details. On the packaging of a product, it can be written ‘organic’ with a label that certifies it. Consumers who trust their stores and brands are caught off guard. Indeed, an example will illustrate this phenomenon well, namely the composition of ‘organic’ breaded cod fillets. However, what you need to know is that if the breadcrumbs are organic, the fish are not organic at all. The same astonishment with mackerel fillets with mustard or sardines in olive oil. Each time, only the seasoning is guaranteed AB. Even if they are sold in specialised shops, this is in fact the case for all products based on wild fish or game, raw materials that are by definition impossible to certify.
Solutions to the Limits
Solutions to achieve greater sustainability in organic agriculture:
The first solution to solve the problems associated with increasing yields in order to meet the needs of a doubling population is to favor countries like Africa that can and must increase their own yields so that they stop importing European products. And for a healthy and organic agriculture, Africans will select species adapted to Africa’s climatic conditions and will use pesticides and natural fertilizers.
The second biggest problem concerning also Africa, I have to deal with is child labour. To this end, human rights organisations or NGOs must monitor more closely whether farmers respect human and children’s rights and must prohibit child labour. Initiatives such as the G7 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, from philanthropic organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seem to promote a model of industrial agriculture that benefits agro-business at the expense of the needs of small producers and rural communities (Michael MacLennan). Greenpeace Africa promotes the financial arguments of organic agriculture to donors and other investors in agricultural development to invest in organic agriculture. Investing in farmers’ knowledge and skills rather than chemical inputs can improve their standard of living and food security
The third biggest problem is the lack of transparency. In order to solve this problem I think that companies must show that they think about consumer goods and that they want to create a real link between them. For that they must be totally transparent, if a product is half organic it must be clear that the packaging. Companies must not make false advertisements. However, it is clear that the State must intervene to solve this problem. After a year and a half of negotiations, the EU agriculture ministers reached a political agreement on a new regulation on organic production and labelling. The new rules define objectives, principles and basic rules for the organic production method and include a new permanent import regime and a control regime. This new regulation makes the EU logo mandatory for organic products of EU origin, but allows it to be accompanied by national or private logos, in order to promote the ‘common concept’ of the organic production method. It requires the indication of where the products have been grown, including for imported products bearing the EU logo, and strengthens the rules for awarding the label: only food containing at least 95% organic ingredients may be labelled as organic, instead of the 70% previously. Non-organic products will also not be allowed to indicate organic ingredients only on the list of ingredients
We have just seen that the State and companies were at fault for the lack of transparency. However, so are consumers. Indeed, there is a great lack of information for consumers because that they do not inform themselves in enough detail, believe in the media without looking for the source of the problem and they get carried away by the trend without really being interested in the subject. So they are not aware of what they consume and why they consume ‘organic’ products. However, at least three times a day, we ask ourselves the same question: what are we eating? For almost 1 billion people, this question is a real suffering, and the answer is sometimes uncertain. But for the majority of us, who are fortunate enough to have a choice of what we can eat, it is also an opportunity to act and make the change we think is necessary. Like many unfair situations around the world, our food system is in crisis and yet it is part of our daily lives, because it is about the food we eat, the people who grow it and how they grow it. The crisis in the current agricultural system concerns food and farmers. But it also concerns what each of us decides to put on our plates every day. As Michael Pollan so aptly put it: ‘Eating is a political act ‘ (Shershow).The list of things we can do, as consumers, is long and exciting. We can first decide for example, which foods to buy and where to buy, and reduce food waste and meat consumption. One of the simple things we can also do is meet the farmers who produce the food we buy, listen to their stories and let us be inspired by their passion for their work. Just going to a farmers’ market or buying fresh produce directly from the producer is one way to ‘put a face’ on our food and know who grew it and where it comes from.
This research paper highlights several global observations, as well as some specific observations. First, with regard to the evolution of the organic products market, we can see that demand is currently growing at a rapid rate of about 10% per year in France, which is a growth rate that can only be advantageous for the agri-food market. Several factors can explain the growing consumer interest in these products, the main ones being related to a desire to support the local economy and health, environmental and ethical concerns. In response to this growing interest, the distribution networks for organic products appear to be increasingly diversified and, if the trend continues, it can be expected that organic products will occupy a much larger share of the global agri-food market in the future. Other reasons for consumption are of course linked to the risks to health, and the environment associated with certain practices in conventional production systems such as the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Even though the consumption of organic products is increasing in France, it is nevertheless limited. Although the interest of farmers who have adopted organic management is primarily related to reasons other than economic or financial, the adoption of these systems is not without concerns about the financial viability, or even profitability, of these agricultural businesses. A lack of transparencies and a lack of information is a big gap in the organic world in France today. We can finally answer our research question ‘Is organic agriculture a sustainable development for France? Is it possible, why don’t all French people consume organic products?’ Indeed, yes, organic farming is a sustainable development for France because it promises many things for a more sustainable development, including soil preservation, and the reduction of the quantity of water used. However, there are many areas for improvement. There is not one solution, but a multitude of solutions to implement. The actors involved in this subject must not only improve on their side but must also cooperate together to achieve a common goal.
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