The organic farming sector has grown rapidly over the past ten years, with both the number of organic farm holdings and area grew by more than half between 2003 and 2010, according to EU statistics.
According to the European Union stats, the majority of holdings (83%) and land (78%) used for organic farming is in the 15 ‘older’ member states (those that joined the European Union before 2004) including France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and the UK.
However, the 12 countries that have joined the EU since 2004, excluding Croatia, which joined last year, are also seeing a growth in organic farming, according to the EU executive.
According to the EU findings, organic agriculture grew by 13% per year between 2002 and 2011, while the number of farms multiplied by ten times between 2003 and 2010. This equates to around 500,000 new hectares every year.
According to the EU statistics, permanent pasture accounts for the largest share of organic farming in the European Union (45%), followed by cereals (15%) and permanent crops (13%). Animal production accounts for just 1%.
The data also shows that organic farmers are generally younger than the average conventional farmers in the EU. In 2010, some 61.3% of organic farmers were under 55, compared to 44.2% in the non-organic agriculture.
The Commission has said that organic food responds to the growing consumer demand "while at the same time delivering public goods in terms of environmental protection, animal welfare and rural development". It released proposals for further rules on organic farming in March, aimed at strengthening and harmonising legislation on the sector.
"The Commission is looking for more and better organic farming in the EU by consolidating consumer confidence in organic products and removing obstacles to the development of organic agriculture," said Dacian Cioloş, the European commissioner for agriculture and rural development.