The COVID-19 pandemic hit us all hard but gave many people the opportunity to rediscover and reconnect with local and organic food during lockdown. I am sure many in your surroundings also learned to make their own bread or desserts and spent a lot more time in the kitchen and at the table. Whilst the global pandemic showed us many vulnerabilities in our communities, care systems and the food system, it was remarkable that European organic sales increased manifold.

challenges organic

However, as the end of the pandemic came into sight, a war in Europe broke loose, following Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Rising fossil-fuel prices heavily impacted the food system, showing its reliance on synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. Coupled with economic speculation, this led to an economic crisis with a heavy inflation rate, increasing energy and food prices and increasingly struggling households that must prioritise their spending.

While it is remarkable that it is mainly the prices of conventional food that are rising, the current economic crisis translated into a sharp decrease in organic sales in several countries – less sharp but still present compared to 2019. This resulted in organic shops across the continent having to close. Strong policies favouring organic supply and demand, as the EU Organic Action Plan puts forward, can be a stimulus for organic producers and consumers. For example, in national organic action plans, the targets for organic should be realistic but ambitious and have the required financial aid coupled to them.

Unfortunately, the organic sector often faces policies doing the opposite. There is a high number of labels for products, such as HVE (High Environmental Value) in France, but also industry-led “regenerative” schemes. Many of these labels try to do what the EU organic label is already doing: providing a guarantee for truly sustainable practices. The EU should ensure the different initiatives are not competing, and prevent greenwashing and help avoid misleading advertising using labels that favour large-scale and “efficient” processes using monocultures, synthetic pesticides and fertilisers.

Labels should also set high standards for environmentally friendly products and encourage consumers to buy products that actually deliver for biodiversity, water, air and soil quality. Moreover, the budget for promotion policies for organic should remain ambitious, so consumers continue to see and be nudged towards organic products.

Last but not least, the EU should set minimum criteria for organic in sustainable public procurement. This would boost demand for organic, bringing organic’s benefits to the plates of public canteens at schools, hospitals and civic buildings.

Author: Jan Plagge, IFOAM Organics Europe President

Published in the BIOFACH & VIVANESS 2023 Bio Eco Actual Special Edition.

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Read the BIOFACH & VIVANESS 2023 Bio Eco Actual Special Edition