Civil society has new expectations on agricultural practices. Consumers have grown increasingly conscious of agricultural practices, and want to know if changes are underway. The Environmental Certification process is an efficient way in which France can communicate its sustainable agriculture policies and practices to the public and allow consumers to easily identify farms engaged in such practices.
Environmental certification for farms allows to identify farms engaged in approaches, especially protective, of the environment. It is aimed at listening to the expectations of the society. The law regarding the environmental certification passed on July 1st 2010.
What does the environmental certification involve?
Environmental certification is a straightforward, progressive and reliable program designed by the farming industry, environmental organizations, consumer bodies, representatives from downstream industries and relevant official bodies.
Environmental certification is voluntary and opens to all sectors of the industry. It is built around four themes:
- Plant protection strategy,
- Management of fertilizer use,
- Water management
It has been developed on the basis of progressive certification of the whole of a farm as verified by independent third-party bodies approved by the Ministry for Agriculture, Food Industry and Forest.
Three levels of environmental certification:
- Level One indicates fulfilment of the environmental requirements in cross-compliance and engages the farmer to assess the environmental status of his farm.
- Level Two reflects compliance with a set of 16 different criteria (wild birds and habitat conservation, underground waters’ protection against the pollution caused by dangerous substances…) that have an effective impact on the environment and are designed to be integrated into the farm’s daily management. These criteria define the focuses for environmental progress on the farm, provide guidelines for the rational use of inputs and place limits of accidental leakage into habitats. At this level, certification can be managed within a collective framework. Existing programs can receive recognition on the basis of dual equivalence: meeting requirements and equivalence of control systems.
- Level Three defined as “High Environmental Value” and involves a formal agreement to achieve defined outcomes. The farmer can choose to be assessed according to a group of four composite indicators that includes either the four themes already described – Biodiversity, Plant protection strategy, Management of fertilizer use, Water management (option A) or two synthetic indicators (option B). These two options allow for diverse systems of production to be taken into account while maintaining the same level of environmental excellence.
Who monitors the program?
The National Commission for Environmental Certification is designated to oversee the program. It examines:
- Applications for official approval of certifying bodies to audit environmental certification at levels 2 and 3.
- Applications for official recognition for existing environmentally conscious farms.
On June 24, 2013, the National Commission for Environmental Certification approved two new environmental certifications in the viticulture sector: one is called “Terra Vitis” and had been implemented in the Champagne region, the other one, had been launched by the Cave of Saumur.
Terra Vitis defines in Latin, the inseparable link between vines and “terroir”. It first started with professionals from the Beaujolais region who wanted to produce “greener wine” by improving the environment (fauna, flora and natural landscapes). For instance, the famers involved in Terra Vitis are committed to limit the use of pesticides, to recycle waste and to maintain grassland and hedges in their farms.
Since 2000, the Cave of Saumur helps wine makers to switch from traditional techniques to greener and innovating ways of producing wine. Among others, the Cave of Saumur focused on preserving the natural resources, air quality and biodiversity. For instance, the initiative promotes to sow flowers between the grapes because the insects that colonize the flowers will naturally regulate pests and diseases from the grapes. Cave of Saumur is also carrying on research programs to determine a farm’s energetic balance, in partnership with the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) and the French Wine Institute (IFV).
Now, France counts 21 environmental certifications approved at level 2. They are implemented all around the country, by more than 5,000 farmers.
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