Last year ISEAL launched a new scheme called the ‘Scaling Up Strategy’. The thinking behind the Strategy was how to promote growth and efficiency in environmental standards and labelling systems while eliminating hindrance to growth.
As far as the organic sector is concerned there are at least two sides to ‘Scaling Up’, and this is probably true for other organisations as well. On the one hand, strong growth and great success is good – more organic land, more farmers, more products – clearly, this is what is wanted. On the other hand, such growth brings the risk of losing the organic soul to big business, making systems less sustainable, damaging small farmers, while streamlining production could diminish the development dynamics of the organic production methods.
I have always had mixed feelings on the concept of scaling up. There is no denying, it is a useful tool. But it is not just about scaling up, it also concerns scaling down, a path that is often more difficult to follow. For now I will just consider the effect of scaling up or down within the organic certification system, and will not go into the discussion of farm size, even though this is also a burning political issue.
Meeting an old friend some weeks ago I learnt that in the nuclear power industry when decisions are made on technical details concerning the construction, the security of the materials is, of course, key. There is, first of all, a thick and necessary layer of legislation. But if I understood correctly, the final decisions on technical details to fulfil the legal specifications were developed in collaboration between governmental institutions and private sector organisations and companies. The reason for this was that the best results are achieved when the wider private groups with all their extra knowledge are involved.
This way of using and respecting the knowledge and experience of the private sector within the nuclear power plant sector seems very different to how the organic legislative system for organic sector has been developed in Europe. It would be good if confidence in the organic private sector competence to handle the organic system was scaled up. Clearly organic production does not involve any risk as in the nuclear industry, that is obvious for anyone. But when looking into the level of legislation for organic production I sometimes get the feeling there is a little bit of a nuclear power plant hidden inside organic production. Otherwise, why would an environmental food production system attract and be attracted to such levels of legislative text? The difference in scale of risk between nuclear power and an environmentally friendly farming system is enormous. Maybe it is time to scale down the detail of legislation in the organic sector?
In fact, the current development of the EU legislation is going into even further details. There is a proposal for new legislation on certification. This is to meet the requests of the European Court of auditors, which criticised the dealings between the Commission and Member States, but is more about supervision of certification bodies. Take just one detail as an example: the new proposal suggests that producers with a sanction affecting the organic status of a product are requested to inform their competent authority. There is a huge risk that many sanctioned producers will not do so. This requirement shouldn’t be scaled down, it should be removed.
The on-going evaluations of the EU Regulation will lead to the identification of several more weaknesses. However, there is a risk that when a weakness is identified, instead of creating a simpler straightforward system, an even more detailed and complex rule will be added. It is time to make an impact assessment on what proposed actions will lead to, and to try to scale down details so that they will not be a hindrance to the growth of organic production. A first step could be to make a EU Regulation that actually can be understood by more than a few percent of the certified operators. It is time to scale down the text so that it is readable! This scale down is needed to get the organic sector to scale up.
The problem is not just with legislation. Looking at broader political decisions, such as accepting trade between the US and the EU system, it is the private sector that has had problems of scaling up, as illustrated by how the parties have got stuck on the details of the differences between the two countries’ systems. It is the EU Commission and the National Organic Program in the US that have seen the possibilities of scaling up the organic business. The same situation occurs with the acceptance of certification bodies working in equivalence with the EU Regulation; it is the Commission that is scaling down on details while scaling up on the range of recognised certification bodies. The outcome of these decisions will absolutely be scaling up for organic production.
Maybe you, as a reader, find these discussions boring. But consider what the next decision regarding the organic sector will be. What will be the result, scaling up or scaling down?