Bio vs. HVE: The Green Marketing War

Quiet green war in the village. Several organizations, such as the National Federation of Organic Agriculture, UFC Que Choisir or synabio, the organic industry lobby, took legal action on January 23 against the label “High ecological value”. They consider it deceptive. They asked the State Council to ban it.

What is this HVE label?A label launched in 2011 under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture and at the time with the support of the National Federation of the Environment (FNE). Broadly speaking, it is a benchmark for supporting farm practices in the agro-ecological transition by improving four criteria: phytosanitary, nitrogen, water and biodiversity. The criteria were strengthened last December.

Farmers undertake to follow strict rules, farms are inspected by external organizations. 29,898 farms were HVE certified on July 1, 2022. Applying tag: 56% more certifications in one year. There are many winegrowers among them. The label is starting to become a little known to consumers, it is an orange flower with a farm scene inside. The label refers to the farm, not the label affixed to the product.

What does the Federation of Organic Agriculture and its allies criticize about the HVE label?

Deceiving the consumer. Nothing less. When asked, the head of the National Federation of Organic Agriculture (FNAB) explains that the charge refers to one point, the definition of the HVE label in the village code. It says the label must adopt “the most demanding practices.” FNAB defends its model and believes that the most demanding practice is organic farming. He explains that there was basically no problem with the contents of the label, except… it wasn’t organic. For example, the use of synthetic pesticides is very limited, but not prohibited. FNAB believes that this creates confusion in the minds of consumers.

The HVE label does not claim to be an organic practice… Proponents of the HVE label explain that we are trying to give it a mission that is not its own and has never claimed to be. HVE is not organic, it has never claimed to be, which does not prevent it from focusing on environmental issues. There is a certain misunderstanding… Why would you want to ban a label that goes in the direction of transition required by a political ecology close to organic sectors? It doesn’t seem rational. But the organic sphere has had the HVE label on its nose for some time.

The reason is pretty trivial. The organic market in France is collapsing after years of growth. Sales are down 10% in two years. Major retailers are allocating less shelf space to it during these times of tough purchasing power. Inevitably, the products are 30-50% more expensive, the health benefits are not proven, and consumers are reluctant. Organic, according to many experts, has reached the limits of its market. The problem is that organic conversions, which are expensive for farmers, are artificially supported by public funds and inevitably get stuck. And there are understandable concerns.

FNAB believes that the challenges lie with other environmentally friendly practices, local products, etc. Therefore, HVE considers the label unfair. It must be gone. According to him, ecological agriculture is the only virtuous one. Protect. It’s a radical position that irritates the rest of the agricultural world: it’s a small shame to decry other effort-oriented practices rather than defend its virtues as an argument. I doubt that consumers will be brought back to organic this way… Especially since we appeal to very different audiences. Obviously, there’s room for everyone.

Basically, it’s a matter of money. DIn the new CAP, highly successful HVE approaches that are not subsidized, such as organic conversions, ecological regimes will be able to benefit from so-called ecological aid in the same way as organic farms. This does not pass in the organic world. We feel deprived of this expectation. The crux of the matter isn’t really the environment, it’s a marketing war, green of course, but nothing else.

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