French Biodiversity Office leaks damaging report

Report sparks organic producers to resist new governmental eco-scheme subsidies.

France's HVE label
France's HVE label

France’s National Federation of Organic Agriculture (FNAB) has urged the French government to reopen the eligibility criteria of its new eco-scheme subsidies after a report leaked to Le Monde this week from the French Biodiversity Office (OFB), a government-run environmental agency. According to the leaked report, the High Environmental Value (HVE) certification provided “no environmental benefits in the vast majority of cases.”

France’s Ministry of Agriculture announced on 21 May that HVE certified vineyards and organic vineyards would be eligible for the same level of eco-scheme funding under proposed reforms to the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). Eco-schemes, a central feature of the CAP proposal, would see incentives paid to farmers who voluntarily adhere to environmentally friendly practices, beginning in 2023.
“The report, which the government should make public, shows that HVE certification can be obtained without any real environmental improvement,” said Loic Madeline, general secretary of the FNAB.

Nicolas Dubedout, head of viticulture at Chateau Malescasse, an HVE-certified Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel estate, said HVE certification was “insufficient in terms of protecting biodiversity and the environment. More needs to be done.”

Dubedout revealed to Meininger’s that Chateau Malescasse was starting organic production trials on 10ha of its 40ha vineyard this year. “HVE certification is good, it shows customers that we pay attention to the environment, and it allows us to reflect upon organic production. However, we have adopted our own biodiversity measures including planting cereals in vineyards. We no longer use herbicides and we are planting cherry trees next year,” Dubedout said. “We were already compliant with HVE standards a long time before obtaining HVE certification,” he said. 
Josselin Saint-Raymond, general secretary of France’s HVE development association, meanwhile, accused the FNAB of adopting the wrong strategy: “The FNAB is waging a strategy of economic warfare of the new eco-schemes, which we disagree with. We all have to progress environmentally together.”

According to FNAB's Madeline, however, “Providing the same level of eco-scheme to HVE and organic vineyards could turn growers away from organic production to HVE. Organic producers have higher costs and stricter rules. The French government has already limited subsidies to a maximum of five years.” 

On 25 May, Le Monde reported that the OFB report revealed HVE’s lax criteria for environmental regulation, including rules that vineyards can spend up to 30 percent of their annual turnover on pesticides, even though the average expenditure on pesticides is only 14 percent of annual expenditure.

Le Monde said the report also cites the example of HVE biodiversity greening regulation on hedges for agro-ecological infrastructure, which is reportedly as being five times less strict that the Common Agricultural Policy rules in place since 2015.
HVE’s Saint-Raymond dismissed the OFB report as lacking objectivity. “We do not agree with it at all.” 
A spokeswoman at the OFB refused to comment on the report.

Barnaby Eales



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