Discussing the future of organic food – 6th Organic Food Conference

On 30 September and 1 October, the 6th edition of our Organic Food Conference took place in Warsaw and online, with the collaboration of the Polish Chamber of Organic Food. During these two days, organic food processors, traders, retailers, importers, and control bodies discussed and exchanged views and ideas about the current EU organic sector, focusing on EU policy strategies and consumers’ as pivotal drivers for the organic development.

Setting the scene
Eduardo Cuoco, Director of IFOAM Organics Europe, welcomed more than 100 participants from all over Europe, announcing the conference’s central themes: the future and developments of the organic food and market, including the organic regulation. Following, Ryszard Kamiński, Polish Undersecretary of State of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, opened with a speech stating the relevance of a common goal for the European Green Deal, the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and the Organic Action Plan. The Undersecretary further endorsed the process of organic food that Poland is undertaking: “We are including more organic farming systems formation in our agriculture schools, so farmers have more knowledge about organic farming. Poland will continue developing its organic sector in the coming years with a variety of measures”.  

Promising numbers from the organic market     
According to the World of Organic Agriculture, the organic market grew by 8% to €45 billion in 2019. In the words of Helga Willer, Deputy Head of Department of Extension, Training & Communication, at the Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL): ‘’These are promising numbers, but the organic area will have to continue to grow in coming years to reach the 25% organic land target by 2030”.

Concurrently, the major trends of the organic market define promising developments, as organic land is diversifying, and local production is steadily increasing. Additionally, e-commerce is rapidly growing, and consumers are buying organic food more often according to Krystyna Radkowska, President of Polish Chamber of Organic Food. The obstacles, however, can be identified with the need to strengthen consumers’ awareness, rising production costs, and elimination artificial packaging.     

How to reach the 25% target?
“Organic is not a niche market anymore, it is part of the solution and the EU Commission recognised this in its EU Green Deal”. These words by Eric Gall, IFOAM’s Deputy Director and Policy Manager, kicked-off the second session about how both organic and conventional businesses are working to achieve the Farm to Fork project’s target of 25% organic land by 2030. Together with Barbara Altmann, Head of Strategic Securing of Raw Materials Rapunzel Naturkost, the focus was laid companies’ role in developing the organic sector. For this, she identified networking of large and small companies as key for the common organic vision and further underlined: “We deeply care for the fairness principle. We try to offer fixed prices for certain years to make it interesting to organic farmers to grow crops. We also invest in organic breeding”.

Sylwester Struzyna, BioPlanet SA CEO & PIZE’s Vice-CEO, explored important arguments for the 25% organic land target. Among others, the CEO listed the need for farmers to access knowledge for providing organic food. “Campaigns increasing the profile of certification can help, just like training of sellers & customers”, he observed.
Panellist Chiara Faenza, Responsible for Sustainability & Values Innovation Coop Italia concluded with an important remark: “To achieve 25% organic land target, we believe we need concrete, time-bound actions for the organic market and economic support focusing on marketing and demand support”.      

The problem of nutrition and sustainability labelling
Together with Hans Kaufmann, Head of Communications of BNN (the German processors and retailers association), and Anne-Claire Asselin, Founder of sustainability consultancy Sayari, the focus shifted towards organic nutrition and sustainability labelling initiatives. Silvia Schmidt, Policy Associate Manager at IFOAM’s Organics Europe, opened the discussion by reflecting on the shortcomings that labelling may have have for organic products: “NutriScore does not per se reflect naturalness of products, while the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) labeldoes not sufficiently consider environmental externalities, such as impacts on biodiversity, animal welfare, or other externalities”. In view of a recent campaign conducted by BNN, Kaufmann informs how organic companies should raise awareness among consumers about the shortcomings of the NutriScore. During her intervention, Asselin showed how the PlanetScore, a method of scoring the environmental impact of a certain product that was recently developed by several French stakeholders, also includes environmental externalities in its calculation method.

The new EU Organic Regulation: What changes for operators? IFOAM’s Organics Europe Regulation Manager, Emanuele Busacca, opened the second day by introducing the session on the opportunities and challenges of the new EU Organic Regulation. On 1 January 2022, the new EU Organic Regulation will apply, resulting in changes in the processing and marketing systems among EU Member States. According to Laurence Bonafos from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI), the legislation on production standards and regulations is practically complete whilst work on international trade and imports is still ongoing.

“Major changes for organic producers, processors and traders can be expected in the new 🇪🇺 organic regulation, but changes for organic processors will be manageable” said Alexander Beck, member of IFOAM Organics Europe’s Interest Group of Organic Processors and Traders, IFOAM Organics Europe (and AöL). Beck further reminded that from 2024 organic producers are obliged to use organic cleaning and disinfection products, which is in line with environmental EU Green Deal targets but poses implementation challenges.

Michel Reynaud, IFOAM’s Organic Europe Board Member (and Vice-President of the Ecocert Group), highlighted: “During 7 years of work on new EU Organic Regulation, IFOAM Organics Europe contributed to its development via advocacy towards the Commission, the Parliament, the Council as well as national ministries via letters, meetings and through and with our members”.

Packaging and organic: Less is more
The new EU Organic Regulation foresees little requirements in terms of materials used for packaging organic products, but “covering organic food in plastic does not feel to be in line with organic principles, especially that of ecology” commented Dóra Drexler, Board Vice-President, IFOAM Organics Europe / ÖMKi, opening the second session focusing on the role of packaging in organic.

Sarah Compson, Chair of IFOAM Organics Europe’s Interest Group of Organic Processors and Traders and Soil Associations’ International Development Manager, explains that a survey found that the biggest barrier to purchasing organic products was packaging in non-recyclable plastic. At the same time, the challenges to packaging standards in the EU are the missing regulations and the swopping of one packaging solution for another, which is not necessarily better and more ecological, according to Compson.

Valentina Pizzi, Marketing and CFO of Pizzi Osvaldo, and Steven IJzerman of EkoPlaza, provided two successful examples of business models that managed to dismiss plastic packaging and replace it with new recyclable and sustainable materials – thanks to research. Johanna Stumpner, of IFOAM Organics Europe’s Interest Group of Organic Processors and Traders and AöL Executive Board member, presented ‘Biokunststofftool,’ a tool to inspect and compare bio-based packaging that is now available in Germany and the United Kingdom. This innovative tool describes and evaluates five material groups based on ecology, social compatibility, and safety & technology.

Careful, minimal & mild processing: The ProOrg Project
Roberto Pinton, Board Member at IFOAM Organics Europe and ProOrg partner, guided us through the relevance of careful, minimal, and mild processing methods: “Legislative frameworks in the EU limit organic food processing. We need more investment in research, and we need to manage projects together”. At the same time, information about food processing, the impact on the environment and environmentally-friendly packaging are key for a positive perception by consumers’, according to Pinton. A similar focus on consumers is presented by Karin Beukel, Circular Food Technology Co-Founder: “We need big industry players to take part in the sustainable process and be more risk taking to enhance the upcycling industry and understand consumers’ needs and wishes. There’s huge potential here, but it’s really a matter of the full industry and research”.

Commissioner concludes: Organic’s benefits are part of the solution
Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, European Commission Janusz Wojciechowski concluded the Organic Food Conference with a powerful statement: “The full potential of organic farming lies not only in its environmental benefits, but also in its ability of bringing real benefits to organic farmers and society. Now it is time for all of us to take action on the Organic Action Plan. I look forward to work with you in this goal”.

Jan Plagge, President, IFOAM Organics Europe concluded: “As organic movement and organic sector, we are ready to be part of the solutions and actions in transitioning towards sustainable food and farming systems. The main challenge is to convert not only farmers and processors, but how to change consumption and cooking habits of consumers. We need a holistic approach of converting the whole value chain, including consumers”.

Thank you’s’ and more information
Thank you to our participants for attending the Organic Food Conference 2021 and to our members, presenters, organizers, sponsors, donors, and media partners! You made this Conference possible, insightful, and inspiring.

Those of you who were unable to attend will be able to catch up on the highlights of the event by watching the recordings, which will be accessible on the Organic Food Conference website in November. Are you an IFOAM Organics Europe member? Recordings are already available on our member extranet!

You can also read about the conference’s 10 important takeaways on our website.

For more information on the Organic Food Conference and IFOAM Organics Europe’s work on this, please contact [email protected] and browse www.organicfoodconference.bio.

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