The Vegaplan Standard is a normative document which assures the quality of primary crop products. Resulting from an interprofessional initiative, it has been developed by agricultural associations and buyers of plant raw materials. It guaranties food safety, traceability, quality, sustainability and Integrated Pest Management. Aside from access to the market, it allows the farmer to ensure that his legal obligations are met and to meet the demands of buyers and the expectations of consumers. The Vegaplan Standard applies to all crops except ornamental crops.
Food safety and the traceability of products are of vital importance. Since the late 90s buyers of vegetable products have been incorporating the legal requirements concerning food safety and traceability in a set of specifications, while united on a platform in consultation with the agricultural organisations. They have also added a number of criteria concerning product quality, environmental protection and employee safety. This has resulted in the ICQM Standard. «ICQM» stands for Integral Chain Quality Management. The first version of the specifications was published in 2004.
Considering the specifications are continuously evolving, account must also be taken of sustainability, a social theme of ever-increasing importance. This theme has environmental, social and economic dimensions. The original ICQM Standard did indeed contain many measures relating to these subjects, mainly in the field of environmental protection.
For the farmer, certification as Vegaplan Standard constitutes proof that he meets:
- the legal requirements of the FASFC (Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain) as regards the Royal Decree dated 14.11.03 on auto control, mandatory notification and traceability in the food chain. He can also benefit from a significant reduction in taxes paid annually to the Agency and have to undergo fewer inspections by the FASFC
- the regional requirements with respect to sustainable use of pesticides and implementation of Integrated Pest Management
- a large number of measures linked to cross-compliance which determine access to payment from the Common Agricultural Policy
- quality criteria imposed by the buyers (cooperatives, traders and processers)
- expectations with regard to sustainable development, including for crops intended for use in biofuels
In one audit, the farmer meets expectations of various stakeholders. This certification highlights the work provided by the agricultural sector while improving operating performance and constitutes acknowledgement of the quality of the plant matter produced.
For the buyer, Vegaplan certification constitutes simplification with regard to controls, a guaranty that the products delivered match the standards set down in the normative document, and meet the expectations of their clients.
What is "sustainable development" in agriculture?
The objective of the Vegaplan is to achieve healthy, regular and sufficient agricultural production with a minimal impact on the environment while ensuring the viability of the farm. This requires a balance between the environmental, social and economic aspects.
The environmental aspect chiefly involves the good management of natural sources to safeguard their viability in the future. Biodiversity, the quality of drinking water and the air and waste prevention are also covered.
The social dimension mainly concerns working conditions, training and access to all kinds of services in relation to other sectors.
The economic dimension involves the efficient use of resources, competitiveness and the viability of the farm business.
In view of the multitude of specifications, question lists, check-lists, etc. concerning sustainability in the vegetable sector, a food chain consultation platform was set up (with representatives from retail, production and the food services), with the purpose of drawing up an inventory of all the requirements concerning ‘sustainable development’. This platform has the purpose of defining a generic framework, while also guaranteeing the different links in the chain the opportunity to develop their own vision. The platform has worked together with Ghent University. Using this work as a basis, Vegaplan has included various new aspects in its specifications (that previously already contained a number of points concerning environmental protection). The efforts to be made by the farmer to secure the three dimensions of sustainability are realistic, practicable and essential to the credibility of the system.
Moreover, within the context of supporting renewable energy sources, including biofuels based on agricultural raw materials, the RED Directive (Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/CE) determines the conditions to be met by sustainably produced agricultural raw materials as defined in this directive. These conditions are included in annex 14.3. The producers of biofuels must generally check compliance with these conditions. To avoid this extra control exercise, the sustainability criteria for biofuels were added to the Vegaplan standard.
A response to the expectations of the Regional authorities concerned integrated control
Within the context of a European regulation (2009/128/EC) the regional authorities impose compliance with a series of measures for the sustainable use of plant protection products. In so doing the aim is to reduce the risks and effects of plant protection products on public health and the environment by stimulating the use of integrated control (IPM) against infestations and alternative techniques such as non-chemical means instead of pesticides.
Integrated Pest Management involves respecting 8 major principles:
- The prevention and/or eradication of harmful organisms must be conducted successfully (rotation of crops, suitable techniques, etc.).
- The harmful organisms must be monitored.
- The thresholds of for action specified for the region, for specific areas, for crops and for special climatic conditions must be taken into account before the treatments are introduced.
- Biological, physical and other sustainable non-chemical methods must be prioritised over chemical methods.
- Phyto products are as specific to the target as possible.
- To maintain use of phyto products at the necessary levels (reduced doses, reduced frequency).
- Anti-resistance strategies must be applied.
- To verify the rate of success of the phyto-pharmaceutical measures.
A number of these measures were already included in the VEGAPLAN Standard. The absent measures were included in the Vegaplan Standard to meet the expectations of the regional authorities, and to avoid additional controls by these authorities at the farms.