2022 has not only been a year of escalating crises around the world, but also the year that saw the Naturland association celebrate its 40th anniversary. In our interview, CEO Steffen Reese signals hope for the organic sector despite all the challenges – but also calls on politicians, businesses, and consumers to back change.

Steffen Reese Naturland

Mr. Reese, last year Naturland celebrated its 40th anniversary. How has the association developed over the last four decades?

In 1982, when Naturland was founded by a group of German farmers, scientists, and residents, there was no such thing as the EU organic regulation. With great enthusiasm and some idealism, they started to establish sustainable, agricultural guidelines. Today, Naturland deals not only with organic agriculture, but also with sustainable aquaculture and fisheries, beekeeping, forestry, processing, trade, and gastronomy. With 140.000 farmers from 60 countries working to our guidelines for sustainable and fair practices, we are the biggest international organic association. To reach our goal of providing organic food for everyone around the globe, we support our members, confront political, environmental, and social shortcomings, and raise awareness.

«We must provide targeted support to those who farm for a better planet. To those who say ‘no!’ to poisoning our fields and our water»

The organic sector does not remain unaffected by the war in Ukraine, rising energy costs, and inflation. Do you think the sector can withstand these challenges?

Most certainly, it can. But when we look at the current development of the organic sector, we must always take the effects of the Covid pandemic into account. In Germany and in many other countries, this led to an unprecedented demand for organic products. It is therefore advisable to compare the figures from 2022 with those from the year 2019, before the pandemic. Hence, we can see that, except for a few product groups such as meat products and eggs, the organic sector is still performing rather well. Therefore, I do believe that organic can not only persist, but continue to thrive. But for this to happen, we must undertake some critical political, corporate, and individual changes.

Can you give us an example of the corporate changes that are needed?

Let us look at the retailers who sell both organic and conventional products. There is no doubt that the integration of organic into their offer has fostered organic growth substantially. Today, they compete no longer only on a price level, but also over who has the greenest image. However, I wish that they would actually sell as much organic as they claim. There is a gap between communication and reality that requires bridging. Another problem lies within the food companies: many of them have both organic and conventional brands, which distorts competition. We need more businesses that are 100 percent committed to organic – just like our Naturland farmers.

«We can play our part by consuming more responsibly. Not only by buying organic, but also by eating less meat and wasting less food»

What needs to happen politically to support sustainable, organic businesses?

On a political level, there is already plenty of ambition for more sustainability. We have the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the European Green Deal with its Farm to Fork Strategy. We organise conferences to discuss how to tackle climate change and the biodiversity crisis. But our politicians keep failing dramatically in agreeing on the necessary measures. We need agricultural policies that fit our goals! Political efforts must focus much more on sustainable and fair food production – for example, by reducing the VAT rate on organic products. Instead of subsidising the status quo, we need more funds for sustainable research and development. And we must provide targeted support to those who farm for a better planet. To those who say ‘no!’ to poisoning our fields and our water, who capture emissions in healthy soils, and who treat both people and animals with respect.

What can consumers do to encourage a more sustainable food system?

Buying organic products is the obvious answer – but there is more than that. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, we worry a lot about our gas bills and our purchasing power. In the meantime, the biodiversity and climate crises are ongoing. On an individual level, there is not that much we can do about the lack of Russian gas or the rise of costs. But every day, we can play our part by consuming more responsibly. Not only by buying organic, but also by eating less meat and wasting less food.

Author: Ina Hiester, freelance journalist for the organic sector

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