The mood was sombre at the opening session of the European Organic Congress 2022 – staged in Bordeaux, France – as participants demonstrated solidarity with the people of Ukraine and, in particular, organic colleagues intimately affected by the war raging in their country.
European Organic Congress 2022: High stakes decade
But the Congress also signalled a determination to ensure that the Ukraine conflict is not used to deflect attention away from organic and agroecological solutions to the global food and climate crises. If anything, said Eduardo Cuoco, IFOAM Organics Europe Director, the crisis should strengthen Europe’s resolve to expand organic farming to build urgently needed resilience into our food system. Organic should also play a pivotal role in the recovery of the Ukrainian food production system, said Kateryna Shor, spokesperson of IFOAM Organics Europe’s Ukrainian members. She added: “We understand that food security is in the forefront both in Ukraine and the world. But the war in Ukraine demonstrates the vulnerability of intensive production and long supply chains”.
This year’s Congress covered some of the most pressing issues of the moment, from regulation, policy and investment to planetary and human health
The events in Ukraine further underline the fact that the 2020s is a high stakes decade, with vital global climate and sustainable development deadlines looming, and a huge, coordinated effort needed to keep the EU’s 25% organic target on track. A sobering backdrop, in other words, to the first in-person European Organic Congress in three years. With its overarching theme A More Organic Future: On the road to achieving the EU Green Deal, this year’s Congress covered some of the most pressing issues of the moment, from regulation, policy and investment to planetary and human health.
Transformational change needed
The two-day event kicked off with two major plenary discussions. The first explored how the latest CAP budget is used to support national Organic Action Plans. UK organic policy consultant, Nic Lampkin, showed that if the EU were to meet its 25%-organic- by-2030 target there would be 25,000,000 ha more organic land than in 2022. But, he noted, if the current growth (linear) trend continued we would reach just 14% organic by 2030, a very significant shortfall in percentage terms. Lampkin said “transformational change” was now needed, supported by €9-15 billion of dedicated expenditure annually “to capture the full potential of 25% organic by 2030”.
There was wide agreement that sustainability labelling can play a key role in improving transparency on the environmental impacts of food systems
The second plenary addressed the critical, sometimes controversial, issue of labelling. There was wide agreement that sustainability labelling can play a key role in improving transparency on the environmental impacts of food systems, but several speakers challenged the suitability of the European Commission’s proposed Product Environmental Footprint scheme, arguing that it favours intensive agriculture. Some national schemes also came in for criticism, such as France’s Low Carbon Label, which Synabio’s Charles Pernin said required no commitments to avoid or reduce greenhouse gases and “lacked any focus on biodiversity or pesticide use”. Pernin and fellow speaker Judith Faller-Moog, president of BIO PLANÈTE, both argued that the Planet-Score system is the most meaningful label, and offers the best tool to support the transition to sustainable food systems.
Healthy people, healthy planet
One of the most keenly anticipated sessions was the keynote from Denis Lairon, Director Emeritus, INSERM for BioNutrinet, who spoke on the multiple health benefits of organic farming. Drawing on a wide body of research, Lairon showed how effectively organic farming delivers on the ‘healthy people, healthy planet’ principle. Citing data from the huge French NutriNet-Santé study, he showed that regular consumption of organic food was associated with healthier overall lifestyles and higher plant-based and fibre elements in the diet. Organic was also associated with lower rates of obesity and significantly reduced risk of developing chronic disease, for example: a -31% risk reduction for metabolic syndrome, a major CVD risk factor; -35% lower risk for type 2 diabetes and -25% lower risk for cancer.
Regular consumption of organic food was associated with healthier overall lifestyles and higher plant-based and fibre elements in the diet
Turning to carbon farming, an expert panel explained how organic farmers are already part of the solution to climate change and biodiversity loss, through the use of carbon ‘catch crops’, grassland cultivation and organic fertilisers.
Getting growth back on track
In a review of market prospects, a panel made up of Charlotte Bladh André (Organic Sweden), Laure Verdeau (Agence Bio) and Pierrick de Ronne (BioCoop), addressed stagnating organic sales being reported in some countries, Sweden and France among them. The panel agreed that organic sales had been affected by competition from other eco labels. The speakers said that engaging with younger consumers on organic’s role in tackling climate breakdown and identifying better ways to communicate the multiple benefits of organic could help reverse the trend.
There were some powerful words from leading organic and environment actors from the Congress’s host country, France. Guillaume Choisy, Director General of the Adour-Garonne water authority told the Congress that Europe has a “duty of solidarity toward future generations to speed up actions and organic farming to preserve natural resources”. For Jean-Luc Gleyze, President of the Gironde Departmental Council, conversion to organic farming is a “cultural revolution”. In a call to action, he added: “Time is short, so let’s move faster and work for people and planetary health”.
Author: Jim Manson, Journalist
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