IFOAM EU: Organic meets conventional
On the 30th October, IFOAM EU’s new event format “IFOAM EU meets business” has had a successful premiere. The main aim of the new format is to present IFOAM EU activities as well as to bring together organic companies and companies which are involved or interested in organic processing and trade.
Both, IFOAM EU members and non-members, attended the event in Brussels alongside with a number of international food industry brands to discuss relevant topics of the organic sector. The list of attendees represents the interest of big enterprises to learn more about the organic sector and to get involved in its developments. A total of around 50 participants used the event to learn from experts giving presentations and to exchange views on topics such as the new EU Organic Regulation, the management of residues, quality systems and the availability of raw materials within a two-round world café.
Take the opportunity for joint action
After a welcome note from moderator and IFOAM Board member Michel Reynaud (Ecocert), IFOAM EU Director Eduardo Cuoco emphasised that the meeting is based on the common wish to find solutions for a sustainable future and to further develop the organic sector.
"The organic industry is a success story. Now it's time to transform agriculture and the food industry and make organic the mainstream," said Cuoco. He explained the strategic guidelines "Organic on Every Table", "Inspire, Deliver, Improve" and "Fair Play, Fair Pay", developed by IFOAM EU, to the guests from the conventional food sector. "It is time to exchange information and best practices to understand each other's perspectives". He stressed that an active role in politics and research was an important basis for determining the direction for the next working period.
Show the organic flag in Brussels
Sarah Compson, Soil Association’s International Development Manager, who took the chair of the IFOAM EU Interest Group for Processing and Trade (IGOP) after long term chair Alex Beck, explained how the interest group is working. IGOP is one of the eldest IFOAM EU interest groups and was established in 2005. Members from nine EU countries, representing more than 80% of the EU Organic Retail Market, are part of the group. The group takes an active role in organic consulting in the EU. The stronger the base of IGOP members, the stronger the association can represent its demands before the EU institutions. Many years of experience show how necessary it is to show the organic flag in Brussels.
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Emanuele Busacca, IFOAM EU Regulation Manager, presented the main changes of the new EU Organic Regulation which will apply from 1st January 2021. With some regrets about the length of the legislative process and despite an initial proposal in 2014, which was highly criticised by the sector, an enormous progress was done in the following negotiations between the EU Institutions. Meanwhile, the majority is trying to see the new regulation in a positive light and make the best of it. „The aim is now to get to a final set of regulations that are workable and good for the sector," Busacca said. He finally cited the issues of residues management, synergists and imports as critical points to be solved.
Residues – clarification necessary
Talking about residues, Alexander Beck, AÖL and IGOP member delved deeper into the subject: “All the years, the situation was not satisfying,” he explained. It is a fact that in the current regulation there is no clear guidance how to deal with non-allowed substances in organic products. Different systems within the member states and of control bodies cause many problems in the global trade and within Europe. After a highly controversial debate on thresholds, the European Commission came to a result that clarifies responsibilities and processes in the articles 27 – 29.
Alex Beck expressed his hope for clarification and an important progress in this field within the upcoming four years. To understand the articles 27-29, AÖL released a guideline.
Alex Beck called for using the next few years to further improve and harmonise the rules. He further called for a fact-based debate to reach a new, generally accepted agreement on the regulatory framework in 2025 (this is the time frame indicated by the Commission as no agreement has yet been reached). He also demanded research activities to collect and evaluate existing data from businesses, associations and public authorities in the EU. This would also have to take into account economic consequences for operators along the product chain and the needs of consumers. IFOAM EU wants to take the lead in addressing these issues and will launch a research project to address these needs within the next months.
"Work on common solutions that are practicable in the future"
In line with the presentations as well as within the discussions, the sensitive subject of residues was widely discussed. Former IFOAM EU President Christopher Stopes stressed that it was necessary to involve not only organic and non-organic companies, but also authorities from the member states: "It is very important to work together with all those who are involved". Alex Beck: "It is my vision to work on common solutions that are practicable in the future". This positive approach was supported by several other speakers. As an example of best practices, a participant told the audience about the Dutch Bio Trust Initiative, which works like a (self-)insurance policy.
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Collaboration and long-term relationships to assure quality
The main question asked within the world café format was: How can the private sector contribute to a well functioning organic supply chain and its integrity? At seven tables, different groups worked on quality assurance, traceability, raw material availability and fraud. The main results across all groups were "collaboration" and "long-term relationships", said Marian Blom, IFOAM EU Vice President, summarising the results of the world café. Another often discussed term was quality. "Quality beats all certificates," formulated one of the groups, it also played an important role in the discussions on the availability of raw materials and traceability.
But what does quality mean? This was discussed in detail at the table on the subject of quality assurance. Does it mean the basic quality in terms of good soil and plant treatment, best production methods and fair business practices to obtain a sustainable organic product? Or is it the pure product quality according to the organic regulations? The two outcomes of the discussion were: "Real organic quality is ensured by lived organic conviction and industry responsibility". This also includes the exchange of information among like-minded people and the integration of newcomers. "It is better for everyone in the market and paying attention to quality and organic values helps to avoid fraud as the organic regulation is not just pressed into the hands of newcomers.“