International Conference on Stock-Free Organic Farming

posted in: News | 0

LIFE NGO 2020-2021 – International Conference on Stock-Free Organic Farming

  1. Context
    Stock-free organic farming broadly refers to any system of cultivation that excludes artificial chemicals (‘agrochemicals’: ‘pesticides’, ‘herbicides’, ‘chemical fertilizers’), livestock manures, animal remains from slaughterhouses, genetically modified material and indeed anything of animal origin such as fishmeal. The fundamental objective of stock-free organic farming is to ensure ecologically and socially sustainable, wholesome food for present and future generations. This area encompasses a strong integration between agricultural, environmental and climate policies.

Stock-free agriculture covers all methods of farming free of the intentional use of non-human animals and many stock-free farmers use agro-ecological approaches, viewing farms as part of the wider eco-system. Food production based on animal farming needs significantly more fertile land, fresh water and energy than plant-based agriculture and nutrition.

According to the United Nations, animal farming is responsible for approximately 18% of the total Greenhouse Gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sectors (13% of GHG). It is also the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions caused by the food system (responsible for approximately a third, up to 30%) of all emissions. There are many reasons for this, such as:
⦁ Large amounts of animal feed need to be produced in order to make relatively small amounts of meat or milk – around 7kg of grain for 1kg of beef; 4kg of grain for 1kg of pork; 2kg of grain for 1kg of poultry;
⦁ Animal feed is usually produced using nitrogen fertilizers, which are energy intensive to create and result in emissions of, for instance, nitrous oxide;
⦁ Livestock emit high levels of methane due to their digestive systems;
⦁ Forests, necessary for the absorption of greenhouse gases, are destroyed to make way for animal grazing or crops for animal feed. Furthermore, removing trees often destroys the soil and the habitats;
⦁ Animals, their feed and the resulting products are usually transported in energy-intensive refrigerated conditions;
⦁ The demand for meat and dairy products is increasing, especially in industrialising Eastern economies.

Studies of the WorldWatch Institute of Washington highlight that livestock and their by-products account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions for agriculture are projected to increase 80% by 2050 at global level. In addition, the UN Report on biodiversity released in May 2019 highlights that more than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of fresh water resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.

According to the 2019 Report issued by the IPES Food Panel, intensive livestock production has a severe impact on the environment due to its heavy GHGs contribution, air and water pollution, soil degradation and deforestation. In particular, animal production is responsible for most of methane and nitrous oxide emissions in the agricultural sector, which have a stronger global warming potential compared to CO2, and it is projected to account for 72% of those emissions by 2030.

The action implemented by SAFE in this area addresses primarily the goals of the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change. This comprehensive strategy identifies priority sectors where strategies and measures to adapt to climate change must be adopted, in association with Member States, and agriculture is one of these sectors.

With regard to the climate policy, we address the Roadmap for a low-carbon economy which identifies the emissions reduction in agriculture as one of the main concerns to achieve a low-carbon economy. The farming sector is considered at some risk of carbon leakage and changes in production patterns are requested to reduce emissions. Given that by 2050 agriculture is projected to represent a third of total EU emissions, a more spread practice of stock-free organic farming can contribute in fact to reducing significantly the GHG emissions that are produced by livestock, such as nitrous oxide and methane.
Our goal of promoting and fostering a more responsible farming in the form of a stock-free organic farming system wants to satisfy some recommendations of the Seventh Environment Action Plan, thematic objective 1: To protect, conserve and enhance the Union’s natural capital, which considers farming with a sense of responsibility for future generations as an essential element in sustainable agriculture.

Not less important is our contribution to the implementation of the Roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe that wants to increase biodiversity through good farming practices, restore organic matter in soil, avoid eutrophication from fertilizers and reduce the use of pesticides.

The 2018 Report on agricultural commodity markets and income issued by the European Commission highlights the environmental impact of animal agriculture. In particular, in 2030 livestock will continue to be responsible for 99% of all methane (CH4) emissions from agriculture, the biggest share (85%) coming from ruminants digestion. Even though emissions from ruminants digestion is expected to decrease, this decrease will be offset by an increase in nitrous dioxide (N20) emissions which come mostly from manure application on the fields.

Eventually, stock-free organic farming can be a new technique or method to target several of the main objectives outlined by the EU for the future Common Agricultural Policy such as climate change action, environmental care and preservation of landscapes and biodiversity. In fact, stock-free agriculture implies a minimisation or elimination of GHGs emissions, it contributes to the promotion of soil fertility through organic farming techniques, to the conservation of habitats, biodiversity and land preservation and protecting food and health quality. The CAP reform represents an opportunity for simplifying and modernizing the European agriculture and it is an opportunity for SAFE to advocate for a redirection of the CAP towards sustainable perspective and to encourage greener agriculture techniques. These measures are crucial to meet the need of society for an eco-friendlier agriculture.
At international level the launch of a policy discussion in the field of stock-free organic farming can contribute greatly to the achievement of some of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as the Goal 12 “Responsible Consumption and Production’ and the Goal 15 “Life on land”.

  1. Description of the activity
    SAFE will organise an International two-day conference in Brussels as its main activity within its ‘Sustainable Agriculture & Stock-Free Organic Farming’ work area in 2020. The conference will outline the benefits of a shift to plant-based agriculture, whilst also addressing the challenges and impacts this will present. It will consider how the Common Agriculture Policy can support this shift. It will introduce stock-free/plant-based organic farming as part of a sustainable agriculture policy area, inviting EU decision-makers and officials to open to more sustainable, renewed ways of farming and producing food. This conference will also be the opportunity to develop a set of internationally recognised standards that could help farmers confidently convert to stock-free/plant-based agriculture. More generally, the conference will aim to present the impacts of plant-based food production to policy-makers, farmers, retailers and consumers as a whole.

This International conference will be entitled ‘Grow Green – International Conference on Plant-based Farming’ and will take place in the European Parliament in the second semester of 2020 (June-October). The exact location of the conference will be decided with several MEPs within SAFE’s network after the European elections in May 2019.The conference will be held during 2 full days in the period between June and October 2020. SAFE will organise this event as a coordinator and will be supported by partners during the conference. Conference partners will include some of the members of SAFE: The Vegan Society (UK), Vegan Organic Network (UK), as well as SAFE’s partner BNS Biocyclic Network Services Ltd (GR/CY).

Additional partners will promote the conference and/or support it as key speakers:
⦁ Vegan France Interpro (FR)
⦁ SONVE (IT)
⦁ VeganOK (IT)
⦁ Förderkreis Biozyklisch-Veganer Anbau (DE)
⦁ Netwerk ter bevordering van Biozyclische Veganlandbouw in Nederland en Vlanderen (NL)
⦁ Végétik (BE)
⦁ Ecosia (DE)
⦁ ProVeg International (DE)
⦁ Albert Schweitzer Stiftung (DE)
⦁ SwissVeg (CH)
⦁ World Food Institute (DE)
⦁ Plenty Food (NL)
⦁ Vegconomist (DE)

Academics and research centres on Food, Climate Change, Organic Farming & Soil Fertility will be invited as participants. Potential academic invitees have already been identified: Pr. Tim Lang (University of London), Steffen Hirth (University of Manchester, Sustainable Consumption Institute), Daniel Fischer (University of Halle), Dr. Marco Springmann (Oxford University), Dr. Helen Harwatt (Harvard University), Pr. Dr. Manfred Grote (University of Paderborn), Dr. Sabina Bietolini (Unicusano University), Wendy Walrabenstein (University of Amsterdam).
SAFE will invite policy experts from different DG of the European Commission (DG ENVI, DG SANTE, DG CLIMA, DG AGRI) as key speakers, as well as Members of the European Parliament within SAFE’s network (which will be contacted after the European elections in May 2019) and national expert representatives.
Other experts such as Dr. agr. Johannes Eisenbach (BNS Biocyclic Network Services Ltd.), Jenny Hall and Iain Tolhurst (authors of ‘Growing Green – Organic Techniques for a Sustainable Future’) and Paola Cane (Business consultant responsible for the evaluation and monitoring of plant-based product performance and market surveys) will also be invited to be speakers at the International Conference.

SAFE will gather an approximate 200 delegates during the event. Among these representatives, the conference will target EU and national policy-makers as well as political parties. The conference will also apply to Farmers and Growers associations (organic, in-conversion and conventional farmers alike), think tanks, industry representatives (retailers, chefs, processors, catering personel), journalists and media influencers (mass media agencies, environmental and agricultural bloggers), health practitioners (nutritionists, public health experts) and NGOs.

As mentioned above, the conference will last for two days. The conference will be held as a plenary conference comprising individual lectures, discussion panels and workshops. The conference will discuss many topic, from the importance of plant-based agriculture to the health impact of plant-based diets. One conference day will be dedicated to the Environmental and Climate aspect of Sustainable Agriculture and Stock-Free/Plant-based Farming.
The exact content of the lectures and discussion panels will be defined in the following months. Nonetheless, SAFE and its partners have already highlighted a few key themes that will be addressed:

• Global Environmental and Climate Issues with Land Use – Sustainable Food Systems in Times of Need;
• Technical aspect of Sustainable Agriculture – Plant-based Agriculture, Agro-ecology, Permaculture, Agroforestry;
• Plant-Based Organic Agriculture & the Common Agricultural Policy – European Policy Developments;
• Better Health for All – Health benefits of plant-based farming and foods;
• Plant-based Organic Standards at national and international levels – Certification, Support during the conversion period and Marketing of Products;
• Economics and supply chain for plant-based farming and foods – best practices and opportunities
• Global Food Security – Sustainable Organic Agriculture as an environmental and ethical support for small farmers;
• Plant-based farming in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

Each topic will be presented in one lecture and/or discussion panel. The themes will also be discussed in detail in thematic workshops, depending on their relevance to the overall discussion and the expertise of the speakers.

Following the International Conference, further advocacy actions will be undertaken by SAFE to ensure that knowledge, evidence, statistics, facts and technical and scientific expertise in the area of Plant-based Farming is shared with stakeholders and policy-makers at national and EU level.
Regular direct meetings with the identified policy-makers will be the main instruments to present opinions of the members of SAFE and consumers at large, to submit position papers and recommendations, and to organise public hearings.

  1. Expected results/outcomes
    As a result of our two-year biannual work programme, we expect plant-based (preferably stock-free organic) farming to become a part of the Agricultural Policy Developments. We also expect to increase the overall knowledge and competence of farming associations and individual farmers on stock-free/plant-based organic farming, which will help them in the medium-term to shift their activity towards more sustainable farming practices. In the long-term this empowerment should lead to a reform of the farming systems. An increase of the market share of ‘green’ enterprises will encourage new farmers to confidently convert to stock-free/plant-based farming using a set of internationally recognised standards.
    In the long run, plant-based organic food supply chains will be recognised and joined by a larger amount of individual farmers, increasing consumers’ knowledge about the positive environmental, climate and health impact of stock-free/plant-based organic products.

Thanks to a diversification of farming methods and a wider adoption of the stock-free/plant-based organic farming, greenhouse gases emissions will be reduced with a general benefit for the countryside environment. More land could be used for organic farming with a significant reduction of lands dedicated to livestock farming.

At the same time, we expect a reduction in the use of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemical agents in the food production, with a connected amelioration of the health of consumers as pesticides are for example linked with carcinogenic factors, endocrine disruptors and abnormal developments of the nervous system.