After the euphoria of the publication of the Farm to Fork strategy, some new and interesting challenges are on the desk of the organic sector for the coming years: What instruments are needed to speed up to 25% organic in 2030? Can we guarantee the high organic quality standards? Will the organic sector be further integrated in the conventional sales channels, or can innovations blow away old structures? What about the identity of the value driven organic sector in regard to processing; will organic processing distinguish itself from the conventional signature? And can we as organic sector overcome the rising pressure of pesticide contaminations from conventional agriculture in organic?

Quo vadis, organic?

Goals in regard to organic

Off course, we must celebrate the F2F strategy and the most important goals in regard to organic. With the ambition of 25% organic farmland in 2030 it seemed clear that a substantial part of the CAP budget 2021-2027 should be reserved for the transition to organic farming. The Council and Parliament decided different and most part of the CAP budget is still reserved for the flat hectare rate for polluting farming. That puts even more pressure on the need to develop the organic market.

The Commission is aware something has to be done to stimulate the market as well, with proposals to integrate organic food stronger in the public procurement and lower VAT on organic fruit and vegetables. But, will this be enough?

The organic area and the organic consumption in the EU are both on the level of 7 to 8% of the conventional farming and food consumption. To reach the 25% goals both farming and food consumption has to grow annually more than 10% EU-wide. That’s a huge challenge and requires very strong demand-driven instruments. When the market asks for organic, the farming sector will follow. It can’t be achieved the other way around.

That’s a huge challenge and requires very strong demand-driven instruments

As OPTA we think three instruments are most important:

  1. Tax instruments, like zero VAT on all organic products, high taxes on chemical inputs in conventional farming and tax instruments for true pricing favouring products that include social benefits (as organic does);
  2. Creating a public demand for organic products by establishing a rising share of organic products in public procurements practices and in public caterings and educational institutions;
  3. EU-wide promotional campaign for value driven organic to raise awareness linked with an intensive educational food-program that spreads from kindergarten till senior citizens. As over 50% of the EU population has overweight and food related diseases, it is clear the EU society has a lot to gain here. And that won’t come easy, because change of behaviour in food consumption is quite a challenge.

Maintain organic quality standards

The new organic regulation shows that the organic standards are still at the same high level as they used to be, and in some aspects has become stricter, like for animal production. There was a clear quality driven ambition in behind. And on details the new regulation wants to close some gaps. There is much improvement in the area of better control instruments on the quality management systems of companies, the risk-based inspection and better harmonization of control in the EU. So basically, measures have been taken to safeguard the high quality of organic production, processing and control.

But when we talk about quality organic there is something else to say: you can make all food organic, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that all organic food is healthy. Here the vision of the organic processing industry comes in the picture. The basic start of organic processing principles in the past century was to keep the food nutrients as much as they are in the fresh product: whole food. No unnecessary treatments, no chemical additives and off course reluctant with added sugar, fats and salt. Here we have something to fresh up as organic processing and trade sector.

Now organic will become mainstream and is integrated in big conventional multinationals as well, that’s good and will help to increase organic managed land relevantly. On the other hand, this is providing room for the organic pioneers to further develop the quality concepts and to push the sustainable and healthy food system forward. It is quite clear that we need a transition in the food sector as well. In a recent study in the Netherlands it was showed that 75% of the processed food in the supermarkets doesn’t fit in the official guideline for healthy food. That highlights that there is a need for high quality processed foods delivering on the consumer’s wish for more convenience.

Very recent there was a publication that from all Dutch supermarkets only the organic shops of Ekoplaza offer over 50% of products that fit into a healthy diet. It shows that organic quality principles are still a majority on the shelves. And we as organic food industry are obliged to strengthen this furthermore.

Now organic will become mainstream and is integrated in big conventional multinationals as well

Sales channels

The question where the rising turnover in organic will be bought is for me the most difficult one. No doubt we need the conventional supermarkets to reach the big audience and to expand organic managed land. But this approach will not be sufficient for the overall transfer of the food system. Innovative concepts need to be further developed, implemented and finally adopted by all market actors including the very big once.

For sure the sales market for food will face a kind of revolution. Maybe something happens as in the car-industry where the electric brand of Elon Musk has a much higher stock-value than the established market-leaders Volkswagen and Toyota. Perhaps Amazon will further establish in Europe with organic food via web sales. The digitalisation of sales system will for sure have a huge impact on food markets in the next decade. For example, how to make this upcoming distribution system sustainable and fair will be one of the major challenges.

We need the conventional supermarkets to reach the big audience and to expand organic managed land

Pesticides and substances

Organic provides the highest percentage of food without detected substances: 84% in the latest EFSA report. And when we look to the top 10 substances detected in the other 16% of organic samples, 7 are not in the area of pesticides, like chlorate (phytosanitary) and bromide (mineral). In almost all cases organic suffers from the high pressure of millions of tons of substances that are used in conventional agriculture.

Therefore, we welcome the reduction of chemical pesticides with 50% in 2030, but this is not enough. The economical burdens to safeguard organic from conventional contaminations is on the organic sector. And there is extra focus of the Commission to safeguard the consumer expectations towards organic as safe haven in a polluted world.

The organic sector will always take responsibility, but we should also be better protected against the polluters. And we must not forget that the detection limits over the past 15 years has been lowered significantly. Until 2010 glyphosate was detected at the level of 0,5 mg/kg. Nowadays it is detected at 0,01 mg/kg. In a polluted world with lower and lower detection limits we will detect more and more substances, also in organic. We need another answer from policy side to cope that situation as OPTA claims in its paper on organic quality. And off course the harmonization of the residue handling in EU is an urgent topic where we developed 10 instruments with many stakeholders, published as the FiBL-OPTA report for harmonized residue handling.

Author: Bavo van den Idsert, Consultant in the organic sector and Association manager of OPTA EU

Sources and further information:

This article is brought to you by OPTA, the Organic Processing and Trade Association. Consider becoming a member!

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