How a new type of farm production emerged: the different currents of thinking
Organic farming is the product of a series of studies and the result of the development of various alternative methods of agricultural production that started off, essentially, in Northern Europe in the early 20th century.
Three currents of thinking deserve special mention:
Biodynamic agriculture, which appeared in Germany as an initiative of Rudolf Steiner.
Organic farming, which emerged in England thanks to the views developed by Sir Howard in his Agricultural Testament (1940).
Biological agriculture, which was developed in Switzerland by Hans Peter Rusch and Hans Muller.
The common element of these movements was that they considered as paramount the bond between agriculture and nature, as well as the respect for natural balance. Therefore, they differed from the kind of agriculture that aimed for the highest yield through multiple interventions with various types of synthetic products. Despite the existence and validity of these currents of thinking, organic farming remained at an embryonic stage for a long time.
The development of organic farming
Throughout the '50s, the main priority for agriculture was to meet, through a significant increase in agricultural production, the immediate needs in food and to increase self-sufficiency of the European Community.
Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that organic farming was not favourably regarded at first.
However, the late 1960s and mainly the 1970s ushered in a major new awareness on environmental protection, where organic farming could play a vital part.
New links were established among producers, consumers and other parties interested in ecology and a way of life more closely linked to nature.
Organic farming, however, did not truly flourish before the 1980s, when this new way of production, as well as consumer interest about these products, continued to develop not only in the majority of European countries but also elsewhere, such as the US, Canada, Australia and Japan.
It is then that we observed a significant increase in producer numbers, as well as the expression of initiatives in organic product processing and marketing.
This favourable framework for the development of organic farming largely owed its emergence to the steady consumer interest in buying healthy products, produced by environmentally-friendly methods.
At the same time, official administration services slowly began to acknowledge organic farming, including it to their research scope and passing legislation concerning this field (as it happened, for example, in Austria, France, and Denmark).
Furthermore, some member-states started subsidizing this type of agriculture, both at a national and a regional level. Despite these efforts, however, organic farming continued to lag due to lack of recognisability.
Indeed, there was some degree of consumer confusion as to what organic farming really was and the limitations it imposed. The causes for this confusion included the existence of different schools and philosophies; lack of a common terminology; varied product presentation; lack of distinction among organic, quality, and natural products, and others.
This confusion was also caused by deliberate mislabelling of products to imply that they were related to organic farming.
Official acknowledgement and legislative regulation of organic farming within the European Union
Under these circumstances, setting a legislative framework seemed as an efficient means that would allow organic farming to reliably find its place in the market.
An important legislation, Reg. (EEC) 2092/91, was passed by the European Community in the early 1990s.
Other countries then moved to officially acknowledge organic farming as well, and initiatives were taken at an international level.
The international acknowledgment of organic farming
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) set the guidelines for organic farming and processing in November 1998.
Founded in 1972, IFOAM encompasses organizations from around the world that are interested in organic farming production, certification, research, education, and promotion. The guidelines for organic farming and processing it has set out are not mandatory, but they definitely constitute a way of thinking, since they describe the current state of organic production and processing methods.
IFOAM has also created a regional group for the European Union in order to keep a discussion going with the European Commission on the development of the organic farming industry.
In June 1999, the Codex Alimentarius Commission approved the guidelines concerning the production, processing, labelling, and marketing of organically produced foodstuff. These guidelines form the principles of organic production at the levels of agricultural exploitation, preparation, storing, transportation, labelling, and marketing of organic products.
Since 1999, FAO has also initiated a working programme with the aim to promote organic farming in developing countries.