Farming in the European Union: from organic to sustainable. An assessment of a legal transition based on land stewardship and participatory guarantee systems
Abstract: The conventional agricultural production system is not sustainable. Organic agriculture is assumed to be sustainable from the environmental perspective, and its production and labelling has been regulated in the European Union (EU). The EU organic regime has been challenged by proponents of agroecology, a philosophy that merges agriculture and ecology and considers environmental and social aspects. Some other initiatives at the local and regional level propose different ways of producing food sustainably. In 2015, a Spanish environmental NGO called RCTCMM launched a market of products coming from land stewardship (LS) agreements certified with participatory guarantee systems (PGSs), claiming it to be a sustainable alternative to the products certified as EU organic. Using strong/weak and soft-path/hard-path sustainability frameworks I analyse the sustainability features of the EU organic regime, agroecology, LS, and PGSs from the environmental and social points of view. I also do a SWOT analysis on the implementation of RCTCMM’s project. My analysis finds: 1) the EU organic regime is not sustainable because it does not take into account important local and global environmental impacts, and leaves out of the market responsible farmers who cannot compete in the global markets, afford the cost of certification, or participate in the selection of the certification criteria; 2) agroecology is a strong sustainability, soft-path solution from both social and environmental dimensions; 3) LS and PGSs can solve some of the current EU organic regime’s sustainability issues, with multifunctional agriculture, short commercial channels, and inclusiveness and participation of farmers in the certification process; and 4) RCTCMM’s project needs to improve some organisational aspects for the successful implementation of their initiative in Spain, although there are other external risks that require changes at the EU-level to dissipate. Using transition theory, I offer three legal transitions towards a less unsustainable EU regime: A) a ‘patch’ to the current EU organic regime with an update of the current criteria and the allowance of group certification; B) a parallel alternative system of incentives for initiatives like PGSs and LS; and C) a reform of the whole EU agricultural regime conforming to agroecological principles. I suggest Option B because it is a strong sustainability alternative and it is the easiest to implement considering the transaction costs involved in the other two.
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