Aurora Abad is from Sevilla and has been living in Brussels for 20 years, working in European Public Affairs. She has developed the greater part of her career in the European trade association representing wine companies, where she has been Trade Director since 2016. Previously she has covered food safety, customer issues and environmental sustainability. Starting this March, she takes up the new position of Association Manager of the Organic Processing and Trade Association (OPTA).

From a key role in the leadership of the wine sector to organic. How are you approaching your new position at OPTA?

I am pleased to join the organic sector at such a pivotal time and to get involved in issues close to my heart. Europe wants more organic products, and the Green Deal is intended to bring radical changes in all production systems. The 25% target for agricultural land by 2030 will give a push to the sector. I see a bright future for organic and I am enthusiastic about putting my energy and experience at the service of this major contributor to the EU green transition.

Regulations, food labelling and the trade system structure is constantly changing. How not to lose track of it?

Yes, you can get lost in the EU regulatory jungle! But I have become familiar with the policies relevant to agriculture and foodstuffs, and also with the tools that the Commission has put in place to interact with the organizations participating in EU debates around these policies. And after many years in the Brussels arena, I have become part of a solid network on which I can rely.

«The ambitious target for organic farming will only be achieved in combination with an organized and efficient supply chain»

Production and consumption patterns are changing. Which role does OPTA play in achieving a sustainable food system in Europe?

The ambitious target for organic farming will only be achieved in combination with an organized and efficient supply chain. Organic processor and traders help to balance supply and demand. They are a vital link in the food chain and allow the increase of organic agricultural land to translate into an increase of organic foodstuffs. Actors are linked to each other in the supply chain, and OPTA members are necessary to the collective success of the organic sector.

And a key word here is ‘innovation’, necessary for processors to meet the highest environmental standards with minimal alteration in the qualities and original flavours of the foods. This adds value to the products of organic farmers, for the benefit of the entire chain. So OPTA has a major role to play in the collaborative effort towards a more sustainable food system.

«There is a ‘make or break’ moment for the EU to act on environmental challenges»

Are policymakers and stakeholders in Europe now more committed to the Sustainable Development Goals?

Yes, they definitely are! And the European Green Deal is a testimony. For European citizens climate change and biodiversity losses are the most serious problems facing the world. And this concern is reflected in the central role that has been given to the Green Deal in the policy agenda for the years to come.

But the green transition is a colossal task, and the road ahead will be challenging. For example, the recent discussions about the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Organic Action Plan at the European Parliament show that there is a real risk of lowering ambitions.

«The green transition is a colossal task, and the road ahead will be challenging»

There is a ‘make or break’ moment for the EU to act on environmental challenges. The organic sector is a pioneer and has a large contribution to make to this debate in Brussels. OPTA wants to be part of it, in the conviction that now the EU needs to walk the talk.

What more can the institutions do to contribute to the organic sector’s development?

The EU Organic Action Plan is a robust roadmap for the years to come. But there is always more that can be done. In my views, an urgent task is to seriously explore the difficult coexistence of organic production with conventional farmers using substances which are not allowed under the organic rules. And another good contribution would be increasing the trade of organics as a way to promote worldwide the EU sustainable food standards.

How to convince leaders in Brussels to have a further implication in the whole system transition & development of organic farming and commercialization?

I think the key element here is communication. To change eating habits we have to communicate more about the benefits of organic products to the wider society. I think in particular about countries like Spain and Italy, which are large organic producers but where consumption lags behind. The Farm to Fork strategy provides for the right tools; the EU budget for the promotion of organic products has been significantly increased. Now it is up to the organic community itself to use this opportunity to engage with consumers on the benefits of organic products in terms of quality, nutrition, health and sustainable living.

«It is up to the organic community itself to use this opportunity to engage with consumers»

What are OPTA’s main goals for 2022?

We have a lot on our plate for 2022! We will start by looking at the enforcement of the new organic regulation, with a focus on the new import procedures and the complex issue of residues handling. We will also reflect on the equivalence trade agreements that the EU is about to negotiate with our key trading partners.

On the policy issues that are not specific to organic, we will monitor the developments around the EU Soil Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy 2030, where the organic sector has an important contribution to make. And of course, we will follow with attention the discussions in Brussels about Sustainable Food Systems to ensure that the specificities and benefits of the organic scheme are embraced. Last but not least, we are actively involved in the ongoing consultation on nutrition labelling. An exciting and challenging agenda.

Consider becoming a member of OPTA, the Organic Processing and Trade Association.

OPTA

Author: Oriol Urrutia, Co-Editor

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