Organic farming should account for a quarter of agricultural land in the EU by 2030, the European Commission has said after announcing an action plan to accelerate the development of the sector.

As well as expanding the amount of land farmed organically, the aim of the plan is to boost demand from consumers and to clamp down on fraudulent organic labelling.

In announcing the initiative, the European Commission said that farming organically increases biodiversity by 30% – and brings many other benefits, including improving animal welfare.

“Organic farmers are the pioneers of the sustainable agriculture of the future,” the commission said in a statement.

“In particular, [organic farming] plays a role in the transition to sustainable food production and consumption, and contributes to the protection of nature and reversing the degradation of ecosystems.”

If the 25% target is to be reached, significant increases will need to happen, because the commission’s figures indicate that only about 8.5% of land in the European Union is currently farmed organically.

There are major differences between member states, with some already having more than a quarter of their land farmed organically, while in others the figure is as low as 0.5%.

The new 23-point action plan has three main themes – increasing production, improving sustainability and boosting consumption while maintaining consumer trust.

As well as having ambitious targets for how much land is farmed organically, through its action plan, the commission wants to achieve “a significant increase” in organic aquaculture.

One way in which organic production will be encouraged is by improving access to local and small-scale processing facilities, as this should help smaller producers get their produce to market. The commission is also looking at ways to strengthen organic supply chains.

Scientific research efforts will be directed at, for example, finding new alternatives to using chemicals to boost production and protect plants from pests and diseases.

Also as part of its drive to make agriculture more sustainable, the commission will create what it describes as a network of “climate positive” organic farms. These can share best practice how organic farming’s carbon footprint can be reduced.

“Ensuring a more efficient use of resources is a challenge for the agriculture and aquaculture sectors as a whole,” the commission said.

“The commission will draft guidelines to minimise the use of plastics and shall promote the efficient use of water and energy.”

Using social media, the commission plans to highlight the benefits to consumers as a way of increasing the amount of organic food that is eaten. Officials also want public canteens to serve more organic food.

To ensure that products are traceable, a database of all certified organic European producers is being developed. Countries outside the EU will be able to join the directory later on.

“The Action Plan recognises that to increase consumption, it is key to strengthen the fight against fraudulent practices and to improve traceability,” the statement said.

The intention is to make use of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to promote organic agriculture on land. In its latest version, the CAP can offer farmers incentives to continue organic production and to convert land farmed conventionally to organic methods.

Similarly, the commission said sustainable aquaculture can be promoted by the Common Fisheries Policy, and there are also opportunities for member states to tap into the 2021-27 European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) to do the same.

Nations are also being urged to frame national strategic plans for agriculture in a way that encourages the uptake of organic farming.

Regular meetings and annual monitoring by the European Commission will take place to promote the aims of the action plan.

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