Organic agriculture: definition and conditions

Defined as "a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people", organic agriculture "relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science benefiting the environment while promoting fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved"*.

Organic agriculture as a development model has many assets. Organic agriculture protects biodiversity while contributing to world food supplies in a balanced and sustainable way. It supports the economic and social development of rural communities and fosters gender equality and it is markedly better for both consumer and producer health.
To be labelled organic, a product has to respect precise specifications and is subjected to strict controls. No synthetic chemicals are tolerated; livestock feeds are free of antibiotics and GMOs are excluded from the chain.** Special attention is paid to the well-being of animals and additives are limited in product processing. Instead of mineral fertilisers and pesticides, organic agriculture relies on organic fertilisers and on organic methods of pest control.

Usually the recognition of an organic product is achieved through labelling on the package. In Belgium, the Biogarantie ® label means that a product comes from organic agriculture and respects the specifications set by Bioforum, the platform of organic professionals and consumers.

The Ecogarantie® label is used for non-food products (housekeeping products etc.).

Specifications for organic agriculture have in general been drawn up by both national and international civil society organisations. The European Commission has adopted an official version of these: This is the (CE) n°834/2007 regulation, which is applicable as of 1 January 2009. However, it does not yet cover certain fields for which, in Belgium, the Biogarantie label is a forerunner, such as animal feeds, fibre or collective catering.

*Source : IFOAM - International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements - www.ifoam.orgThe International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.
European regulation does allow a certain minimum GMO trace amount of 0.9 % in order not to penalise producers who are victims of involuntary contamination from neighbouring GMO exploitations. Consumer and environmental organisations fear rather that this tolerance will be a stepping-stone for the dissemination and promotion of GMO crops.