This is the motivation and the ambitious challenge of the European organic sector, meeting this week in Tallinn (Estonia), coinciding with the presidency of the Baltic country in the EU, at the 11th European Organic Congress organized by IFOAM EU.

Organic professionals from all over Europe have shared ideas and experience, while being able to listen to the opinions of the stakeholders in the European and / or national environmental policy of the member states.

Jan Plagge, Board Member of IFOAM EU and president of Bioland summarizes the importance of this congress: “We have a vision, an organic vision for 2030. We want that Europe gets more organic. 50% of the whole agriculture area should be produced in an organic or agro-ecological way in 2030. For this vision becoming real we need to meet and we need to discuss about strategies and steps to reach this goal, which is not so far away: 2030 is just 12 years and today we have 6% organic and we want 50%. The main message of this congress is that organic can’t be just a way of living and eating for a little group of people: because this will simply not give a real solution to the real challenges we have in Europe and all over the world. Our ambition is to show all the World the organic sector has to be a leader of the solution. This congress is about how we make it happen.”

Organic vision 2030 #EUorganic2030

On the first day of the conference, after a presentation and welcome by Christopher Stopes, President of IFOAM EU, a plenary session was held on a European vision for sustainability in agriculture, where the central subject – as in the presentation of Stopes – was the vision for an organic Europe in 2030.

The plenary was attended by, the “Stakeholders”, Pekka Personen, General Secretary of Copa-Cogeca, Jeremy Wates, General Secretary of the European Environmental Bureau and Jan Plagge, President of Bioland, BOELW and member of the Board of IFOAM EU, as well as Policy Makers Elisabeth Backteman, Secretary of State of the  Swedish Rural Ministry, Toomas Kevvai, Deputy Secretary-General for Food Security and Development of the Rural Ministry of Estonia and Flavio Coturni, Head of the Policy Analysis and Perspectives Unit on Agriculture, DG AGRI, of the European Commission. Eduardo Cuoco, director of IFOAM EU, moderated the plenary.

Opening Plenary - Sustainability Now! With Elisabeth Backteman, Flavio Coturni, Toomas Kevvai, Eduardo Cuoco (moderator), Pekka Personen Jeremy Wates and Jan Plagge
Opening Plenary – Sustainability Now! With Elisabeth Backteman, Flavio Coturni, Toomas Kevvai, Eduardo Cuoco (moderator), Pekka Personen, Jeremy Wates and Jan Plagge

Different positions of these actors could be seen in the debate, while those most closely related to the organic sector – or who are directly part of it – called for innovation and asked for a CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) to give zero aid to who pollute and poison soil and population, and only support – and to a greater extent than currently – those who grow organic or “Environmentally Friendly”; the representatives of institutions only want the change and transition towards the organic on the way that the farmers (conventional) want and when this helps them. Pekka Personen said “My position is yes to the organic, but a yes conditioned to what the farmers want: if they want to bet for the organic, we will be with them.”

In a more general view, Jeremy Wates commented, “The problem is that conventional food is too cheap, we don’t pay what food is worth” and Jan Plagge said, “We are not that far away (of the vision for 2030) we must aim higher and be brave with European policies.” Flavio Coturni commented on the CAP: “We shouldn’t go back to the old risk management policies. The CAP has problems and what we want is to help farmers do what they already want: to take care of the soil. If we want a good CAP in the future, we have to touch on social and economic sustainability. Farmers are the first ones who want to preserve resources.”

Answering the question of whether those present in the plenary would sign for 50% of agricultural land cultivated in organic terms by 2030, Elisabeth Backteman explained the Swedish plan to have 60% of organic consumption in 2030 and 30% of area planted in organic, Flavio Coturni expressed his will to be 100% and, while the rest of the table only subscribed – again – to the extent that farmers want, Jan Plagge commented: “To get 50% organic in 2030 it’ s important to tell that 50% organic is not what you want, it is what is needed! It is the only way to face the challenges. How can we condition this 50% to what farmers want? We cannot follow the wheel of cheaper crops to sell cheaper … The first organic farmers developed organic agriculture and deal with conventional. We are all on the same side. We must give healthy food to society and that is good for farmers and for consumers. We mustn’t stop developing organic and innovating.”

Finally Eduardo Cuoco summed up “we have the vision there and we all must improve. Producers have to receive fair prices. I see it possible. Organic sector must be one of the main sectors of the solution to the problems of agriculture and environment.”

Workshops: Organic on every table, Inspire-Improve-Deliver and Fair Play-Fair Pay

After the intense plenary session and a deserved coffee break, the congress was divided into three working groups, in which were launched ideas and projections, and the conclusions of which were drawn on the second day of the congress.

Particularly interesting was the participation in “Organic on Every Table” by Frank Bardet, a product prospect of Biocoop, a French cooperative with 950 stores in France, 50 new ones per year and which accounts for 14% of the Organic sales of the Gallic country. Biocoop does not buy practically nothing outside of France and always looks for the local and proximity (and obviously organic) food. It is this sense; Bardet remarked that there is still too much confusion on the part of the consumer between these terms. Their motto: shops and farmers must carry together a life plan.

Blue economy: 10 years – 100 innovations – 100 million jobs

Gunter Pauli concluded the first day of congress with his interesting presentation, where he showed innovative and intelligent business examples where, as it could not be otherwise, the organic plays a major role.

Gunter Paulí at the 11th European Organic Congress
Gunter Paulí at the 11th European Organic Congress

The new organic regulation

The new organic regulation, which is planned to be effective from June 2020, has been an important focus for all attendees, especially the second day of the conference in the regulatory discussion panel, which included Martin Häusling, Member of the European Parliament and organic producer, Toomas Kevvai, Deputy Secretary-General for Food Security and Development of the Rural Ministry of Estonia, Elena Panichi, Deputy Head of the Organic Unit DG AGRI, European Commission and Thomas Fertl, Board Member of IFOAM EU and BioAustria. Markus Arbenz, CEO of IFOAM International, moderated the panel, which was opened by Professor Nic Lampkin, executive director of the Organic Research Center.

Organic Regulation Panel
Organic Regulation Panel: Toomas Kevvai, Elena Panichi, Nic Lampkin, Markus Arbenz (moderator), Martin Häusling (& English translator) & Thomas Fertl

Although the new regulation does not like the whole sector, the substantial progress in the new regulation text is notorious and the attendees stand out it. It is necessary to bear in mind the difficulties of a negotiation of this magnitude due to the different positions and interests of the countries and associations of producers.

Regarding the essence of the regulation, Professor Nic Lampkin commented “The organic regulation should be more than a quality control system. Limiting the regulation to this would be a mistake. The organic sector is a challenge for the policies”, and Antonio Compagnoni, from IFOAM AgribioMediterraneo intervened from the public to claim that “Organic (organic products) is more important than the regulation. The regulation should serve the organic movement: not otherwise”, a view shared by Martin Häusling, who added “No organic farmer will return to conventional or will be converted to Organic by the regulation: Organic is in the head, it’s something about mentality.”

Antonio Compagnoni, from IFOAM AgribioMediterraneo
Antonio Compagnoni, (IFOAM AgribioMediterraneo) intervention

Elena Panichi, commented that “the purpose of the regulation is to clarify and simplify,” and Thomas Fertl has focused attention on the need to increase resources to ensure that European-equivalent Organic seals meet the organic criteria: “We cannot import and make agreements with other labels if we are not sure that our requirements are met. We must increase the controls with the new regulation; otherwise we will be as in the current situation.”  With the new Organic regulation, the will is that the organic certifications of the United States, Canada, Chile, Japan and South Korea be equivalent to the European certificate (Euro Leaf). There is a willingness to remove trade barriers but the different institutions involved are still at an early stage of the negotiations.

The position to be taken in cases of cross-contamination of transgenic with organic fields has also been debated. Professor Lampkin has stated that “organic farmer who does not cheat and is harmed by neighbouring farms should not be penalized”, while Martin Häusling would only settle if the pesticide residues were 0, and commented “Organic sector should put a lot of pressure on the conventional sector to ban the maximum number of pesticides, especially the most dangerous”, a comment that has been subscribed throughout the table. In addition, Häusling has mentioned the possibility of carrying out a test that shows if the farmer has been victim of cross contamination or if he is using pesticides. In the same vein, Fertl added: “We should have the ambition to reduce the number and quantity of pesticides. It is clear that regulation has limited possibilities to develop the organic sector: we must take advantage of it but it is not the only tool to achieve our objectives. We should push up and stimulate organic farming far beyond organic regulation.”

After this interesting panel the congress was divided again in the 3 “workshops“, in which the work begun the first day had been complemented. After the meal, and with a spectacular mural made with the ideas and conclusions of the “workshops”, Kristin Karlsson, Communications Manager of Concord Sweden commented on the conclusions of the three areas. Initiatives such as Copenhagen municipal policies for eco-friendly school canteens, street markets across Europe and the weeks with Organic activities in some countries such as Germany, the UK or Spain (in Catalonia) have been highlighted in “Organic on every table” and in “Inspirer-Deliver”, while “Fair Play – Fair Pay” has highlighted the work of certifiers such as Naturland (Germany), which include “fair” certification as well as organic.

Workshops mural in the workshops conclusions

In line with this last workshop, at the last table of the conference “Thinking Organic”, has participated Sergi Corbalán, Executive Director of the Fair Trade Advocacy Office, which emphasized the need to go hand in hand and complement the organic movements and Fair Trade. At this table participated Bernhard Johannes Kahl, from Food Quality & Health Association, who exemplified a hamburger as all food – despite being organic – were from very different parts of the world, and has called to reflection on whether this is really what we want for organic sector. Also participated in the round table Christopher Stopes, president of IFOAM EU and Eric Gall, Deputy Director of IFOAM EU, which moderated a session that was opened by Emile Frison, Independent Consultant, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-FOOD), who took a look at the obstacles the organic movement founds, the possible outputs and solutions and their vision of the future.

Following this interesting discussion table has been a general assessment of the congress, valuing the present and looking to the future with the numerous and ambitious challenges that our sector has and should not let slip.

The future is organic!

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More information on the 11th European Organic Congress at

Oriol Urrutia, responsible for the digital edition of Bio Eco Actual, and participant at the 11th European Organic Congress