Every year, the organic food industry meets at the European Organic Congress, organized by IFOAM Europe, to exchange knowledge and discuss important future issues. Organic Sweden was present at this year's conference which took place in Bordeaux in the South West of France. In the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, where Bordeaux is located, has in recent years developed into one of the country's leading eco-regions.
Stopped growth requires new steps
The market for organic food and beverages is growing strongly in Europe, but in some places, including Sweden and France, sales are no longer increasing. This was the starting point for a panel discussion with Charlotte Bladh André, Laure Verdeau from Agence Bio, the French trade association for organic farming and Pierrick de Ronne from the organic grocery chain BioCoop.
The panel agreed that one of the reasons for the negative sales trend is that organic has faced increasingly fierce competition from locally produced food and other labels. 1) better communicating the benefits with eco, 2) talking more about the climate issue and 3) engaging the young generation was seen as important steps to reverse the trend.
2. Policies need to promote the market
During one of the conference's most lively panel discussions, the possibilities of the European Agricultural Policy (CAP) to contribute to the European Commission's target of 25 percent organic agricultural area by 2030 were discussed.
The panel discussion was attended by Pierre Bascou, Head of Sustainability at the European Commission's Department for Agriculture and Rural Development, Benoit Biteau, Member of the Green / European Free Alliance, Philippe Camburet, FNAB, a network of organic farmers with more than 10 members, Nic Lampkin, independent agricultural consultant and Jan Plagge, President of IFOAM Organics Europe.
In the panel discussion, there was a large consensus that the policy needs to take real action in order for the EU to achieve its area target, which corresponds to a tripling compared to today's organic agricultural area. Furthermore, they agreed that organic farmers must be compensated for them to a greater extent public goods to which their production contributes such as increased biodiversity, healthy soils, clean water and reduced climate footprint.
3. New labels create concern, but also opportunities
In order to make it easier for consumers to make more sustainable food choices, the European Commission has initiated a new sustainability label. This is something that creates great concern in the eco-industry as the new label may be based on Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) - a so-called life cycle analysis method that has been shown to benefit intensive agriculture and disadvantage ecologically. PEF has previously been criticized by BEUC, a European consumer organization, IFOAM and Slow Food Europe. According to these organizations, what is problematic about PEF is that it lacks robust indicators for soil health, biodiversity, pesticides and deforestation.
Unlike PEF, the new French label includes Planet Score parameters for pesticide use, choline storage, biodiversity and animal welfare. The label is behind the Organic Food and Farming Institute (ITAB) together with the research organization Sayari and Very Good Future, a network of investors for sustainable food production. Planet-Score is already used today by many food producers in France, including several organic ones that see a value in showing how organic has a positive effect on several sustainability parameters.
4. Carbon farming = organic farming
One of the conference's most notable topics was "Carbon farming" - a collective term for a variety of cultivation methods that contribute to carbon storage. Several of the participants, including Sybille Kyld from Økologisk Landsforening, pointed out that organic farmers are already making several important efforts for increased carbon storage, such as grassland cultivation, cultivation of catch crops and organic fertilization.
However, there was a consensus that even more can be done to strengthen carbon sequestration in organic farming. Two methods that Andreas Gattinger, professor at Glessen University, highlighted as particularly effective were agroforestry (or avenue cultivation) and use of biocol which was relatively recently approved for organic and KRAV-marked cultivation.