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Organic, BioFach And The Iron Triangle

The largest organic trade show in the world is BioFach which just kicked off in Nuremberg, Germany.

Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development, opened the conference with a talk entitled, Organic Production: The Right Ground Rules for a Growing Sector.

There were a few key items in the speech:

First an announcement of a plan to promote organics, with a focus on the environmental benefits:

We have also been preparing a vigorous campaign to promote organic farming and products in the European Union. The crucial importance of this is clear from the fact that it constitutes the first point in our Action Plan.

The campaign will target a range of groups throughout the European Union — individual consumers, canteens in public institutions, schools, and all key players of the food supply chain.

The central message will be that organic farming holds enormous potential benefits, especially with regard to the environment. We will make sure that these groups know what organic products are — instead of having vague, perhaps contradictory ideas — and that organic labelling actually means something to them.

The campaign will not replace existing national promotion programmes, but complement and support them. It will also introduce a particular tool for co-ordination: a new website, available in all European Union languages. This will present news on organic food and farming; it will contain a toolbox of promotion measures; and it will provide links to national sites with promotion programmes.

I expect to be able to launch the campaign before summer this year.

Second, she explained a plan to ease imports of organic products, particularly from countries without strong organic standards:

Most recently, following agreement by European Union agriculture ministers last December, we have improved the rules for importing organic products. The changes are good news for overseas suppliers, because they make the import process much easier to manage.

We still allow “organic” imports from third countries which have organic standards and a control system officially recognized as equivalent to ours. But from now on, in third countries which are not on this list, we will also accept authorizations from inspection bodies approved by us.

In time, this will free suppliers in “non-approved” third countries from the burdensome obligation of applying to individual European Union Member States for temporary certificates.

Third, she proposed a mandatory EU logo for organics produced within the Union:

…it would be valuable to introduce a mandatory EU logo for all organic goods produced in the European Union. This logo should also be available to all imported products, which comply with the EU standards and control system. Last but not least, the logo would always be combined with an indication of whether the product had been produced inside the Union, outside it, or both.

This is about clarity for the consumer. All organic products on sale in the Union meet certain standards, and the consumer must see this clearly — only then can the Single Market work smoothly.

Nevertheless, under the provisional new general approach, national and private logos would still be permitted, in addition to the EU logo.

The speech reminded us of the many scholars that have posited the existence of an iron triangle connecting a regulated industry, the key congressional committees or subcommittees, and the agency in charge of the regulated industry.

Theodore Lowi, a long time professor of government at Cornell argued in his famous book, The End of Liberalism that interest groups corrupt democracy and prevent the implementation of fair and appropriate public policy.

Ms. Boel’s speech had some interesting points in it, but the overall tone is not that she is representing the people of Europe and is cognizant that she is dealing with an industry with its own financial interests, and that part of her job is to safeguard the hard-earned tax money of these citizens. Instead she sounded more like the head of a trade association, paid to promote the industry.

It is somewhat unseemly and really quite dangerous for the future of democracy.

You can read the speech here.

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