Organic in Europe at a glance

Regulatory framework

Since 1991, the EU Organic Regulation regulates organic farming at the EU level. Until 31 December 2021, Council Regulation (EC) no 834/2007 set the European organic production requirements by defining its aims, objectives, and principles. Two implementing regulations (No 889/2008 and No 1235/2008) detail organic production, labelling, control and import rules. These regulations used to apply to all products with the organic label sold in the EU.

In 2011, the European Commission announced the revision of the legal framework for organic production. Three years later, it presented a legislative proposal to the European Parliament and Council of the EU. After a long revision process, the new organic regulation (EU) 2018/848 was adopted by the Parliament and Council and published in June 2018.

The new EU Organic Regulation was set to apply from 1 January 2021, but due to the difficulties posed by COVID-19, IFOAM Organics Europe asked for postponing the new EU Organic Regulation’s implementation with one-year. Thanks to the joined efforts we did together with our members, we did what seemed impossible – we managed to postpone the implementation of the EU Organic Regulation with one year. This gave many organic operators the time to (better) prepare for the changes to their day-to-day business.

Since 1 January 2022 the new Regulation (EU) 2018/848 applies and is complemented by a significant number of secondary acts (implementing and delegated regulations). Visit the regulation section of our website for more background information on the EU Organic Regulation.

Policy framework

European organic farming practices are greatly influenced by a variety of European policy areas, including the European Green Deal (EGD), the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and Regulation on the Sustainable Use of pesticides (SUR). 

With the European Green Deal’s publication in December 2019, the Commission has launched “a new growth strategy that aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use”. The European Green Deal includes two important strategies for the organic sector: the Farm to Fork Strategy and the EU Biodiversity Strategy (2020).

Importantly, one of the Farm to Fork Strategy’s four targets is reaching 25% of the EU’s agricultural land under organic farming by 2030. The Commission recognised organic as part of the solution to more sustainable food systems. IFOAM Organics Europe believes this target is ambitious but achievable if the right mechanisms are in place.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy aims to recover Europe’s biodiversity by 2030. To do this, it states that 25% of the EU’s agricultural land should be farmed organically.

An important tool to reach the 25% goal and further develop the organic sector is the 2021-2027 Organic Action Plan, published by the Commission on 25 March 2021. It aims at balancing increases in both production of and demand for organic products. The new Organic Action Plan increases the share of research and innovation funding for organic under Horizon Europe to at least 30% of the budget for R&I actions in the field of agriculture, forestry and rural areas to topics specific to or relevant to the organic sector.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the main policy instrument that could make the many objectives of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies a reality – as almost 40% of the EU budget goes to the CAP. Since its creation, the CAP has already undergone significant reforms. The creation of Rural Development (Pillar II) was crucial to develop organic farming and other sustainable farming practices. It is now key that this major EU policy is reformed even further to put sustainability at the core of its architecture. On 23 November 2021, the European Parliament’s Plenary adopted the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (2023-2027) Regulation. The new CAP Strategic Plan Regulation maintains the two-pillar architecture but includes a new direction towards more subsidiarity and a performance-based delivery model. This gives Member States more responsibility and flexibility to design their CAP Strategic Plans at national level.

The new legal framework created:

  • New social conditionality enhancing farmers and farm workers’ rights, mandatory as of 2025. This social conditionality is based on current four EU legislative frameworks (Directive 2019/1152 on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions, Directive 2009/104/EC on Minimum Safety and Health Requirements for use of work equipment by workers, Directive 89/391/EEC on Improvement of Safety and health of workers, Regulation 492/2011 on Freedom of movement for workers within the EU) and the EU foresees several assessments during and at the end of the CAP’s implementation period;
  • New ‘Green Architecture’ consisting of:
    • New ‘Eco-schemes’ with a ringfenced budget of 25% of the first Pillar after a two-year transition period (2023-2024). They will be mandatory for Member States and voluntary for farmers;
    • Nine Good Agricultural and Environmental Land Conditions (GAECs) in the first Pillar; and
    • Agri-Environmental and Climate Measures (AECMs) accounting for 35% budget of the second Pillar.

In November 2021, the Commission published the EU Soil Strategy for 2030 as one of the EU Biodiversity Strategy’s commitments. The Soil Strategy addresses the importance of healthy soils for climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity, ecosystem services, food production and the economy. By 2023, the Commission is planning to table a legislative proposal on soil health to reach the objectives of the Soil Strategy and achieve good soil health across the EU by 2050 (as announced in the strategy).

On 15 December, the European Commission presented its Sustainable Carbon Cycles Communication. On the one hand, the Communication addresses how to increase carbon sequestration and scale up carbon farming as a business model, and on the other hand it discusses industrial approaches to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon removal and storage should contribute to achieving the EU legally binding commitment of climate neutrality by 2050. To reach EU climate objectives, drastic emission reductions are needed. A Commission analysis suggests we must reduce the current use of fossil carbon energy by 95% if we want to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Carbon removals in the land use sector will also play an important role to meet the climate objectives.

The Commission is expected to propose a Regulation on the Sustainable Use of pesticides (SUR) by mid-2022, which is a revision of the Sustainable Use of pesticides Directive (SUD). This will be one of the main tools to reach Farm to Fork’s target of pesticide reduction. Advocacy work to show the key role of organic farming in the reduction of pesticides and try to make it a key element of the future proposal. 

The EU Organic Day, 23 September, launched by the European Parliament, the Commission, and the Council of the European Union in 2021, represents the occasion to assess trends in consumer demands, continue raising awareness of organic in the supply chain and finally, define new targets for the future of organic in Europe. This day is one of the actions in the EU Organic Action Plan to increase supply and demand for organic.

Organic market and production

Over the last three decades, organic food and farming have been growing year by year across the EU and continue doing so. The EU’s organic market is dynamic with growth rates varying between countries and categories. Policies can positively impact this growth – both production and consumption. 
In 2020, the EU’s total area of farmland under organic production grew to 14.9 million hectares, 9.2 % of agricultural land. Organic producers are also on the rise as compared to 2019, with their number increasing by 1.9% to 349,551. Accompanying these developments, the EU organic retail market significantly grew to €44.9 billion, rising by almost 15% and showing “its potential to reach the objective of 25% organic land by 2030 put forward in the EU Biodiversity and Farm to Fark strategies”, according to IFOAM Organics Europe’s Director Eduardo Cuoco. Per capita, consumer spending on organic food has doubled in the last decade, reaching €102 annually in the EU.

Browse our interactive infographic with country-specific data and trends on organic production and retail.

Organic and the Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as an urgent call to action for all nations to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. 

Organic agriculture offers feasible solutions to many problems the SDGs are meant to face as linked to the four principles of organic agriculture: Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care. Investing in organic agriculture can improve our chances of successfully implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development based on the 17 SDGs. For instance: 

  • Goal 2 – Zero hunger: Organic farming offers many environmental and social advantages as it trains farmers in low-cost agroecological farming methods, building on local management skills and resources, enabling them to grow nutritious food and combat hunger in their communities. Organic agriculture supports ecologically sound food systems that increase and stabilize yields, improve resistance to pests and diseases and battle poverty by reducing debt incurred by the purchase of chemical inputs, thus fostering food security. As 95% of our food comes directly and indirectly from the soil, we need farming practices that protect our soil. That is why the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) encourages organic agriculture as one of the five forms of sustainable farming practices. 
  • Goal 3 – Good health and well-being: Healthy and sustainable food can only come from healthy sustainable agriculture. By not using harmful chemicals in growing food, chemicals which deplete soils and contaminate water, and with fewer antibiotics, organic farming improves the health of farmers, the environment, farmworkers and society as a whole. 
  • Goal 6 – Clean water and sanitation: Organic farming prevents the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. By managing nutrients more carefully and reducing nitrogen and phosphorus leaching, organic farmers help protect our water systems from pesticide run-off and keep our water clean. Moreover, the use of compost by organic farmers instead of artificial fertilizers increases soil life and organic matter content. This creates the ‘sponge effect’ and allows organic farmers to use up to 60% less water compared to non-organic farms. 
  • Goal 8 – Decent work and economic growth: Sustainable agriculture practices like organic farming have a positive impact on local economies, promote resources circulation and reduce dependency on external inputs. Organic farms often create more jobs and better incomes for farmers and workers, as in addition to organic price premium organic certification can also be associated with indirect economic benefits such as training, credit, and special education programs, especially in developing countries. There, organic farms are also generally perceived as a safer working environment because workers do not come into contact with harmful chemicals. 
  • Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and production: Organic farming practices target more efficient use of natural resources such as soil, water, and air. It is for instance more energy efficient as organic farmers do not use energy-intensive synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and organic ruminants are largely fed on grass instead of energy-intensive concentrate feed. By assessing environmental, social, and economic costs and benefits of food production, and by making them ‘visible’, organic farming contributes to long-term sustainable food production. Raising awareness of the true cost of food production could also play a major role in reducing retail and consumer food waste. 
  • Goal 13 – Climate Action: Research shows that the production of synthetic fertilizers is the second-largest source of emissions of CO2 in agriculture. Instead of being dependent on synthetic fertilizers, organic farmers apply beneficial soil management practices to ensure soil fertility (e.g., crop rotation, cover crops, minimum tillage, and compost). This also results in higher soil carbon sequestration compared to conventional farms. Practices like the use of compost help organic farmers also to improve the water retention capacity of the soil. Thus, organic farming makes farms more resilient, helps mitigate climate change and adapt to weather extremities such as floods, droughts, and land degradations processes. 
  • Goal 14 – Life below water: Organic farming protects our water and its biodiversity by significantly reducing nutrient pollution through synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use, which are one of the main causes of marine dead zones. 
  • Goal 15 – Life on Land: Organic farming increases the abundance and diversity of species. Organically managed lands often have more semi-natural habitats which help to protect and preserve biodiversity, and host on average 30% more varieties of flora and fauna and 50% more individual plants compared to farms that rely on intensive agrochemical use. Organic farmers also protect and enrich soil biodiversity (which represents 25% of the world’s biodiversity) thanks to soil management practices supporting fertility and reducing soil erosion.

A factsheet from IFOAM Organics International (IFOAM – OI)

Organic Agriculture and the Sustainable Development Goals

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