The 17th edition of the European Organic Congress, organised by IFOAM Organics Europe and Ecovalia, ended with a great success of participation from 26 to 28 September in Cordoba, coinciding with the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

European Organic Congress 2023
©IFOAM Organics Europe. Session on generational renewal in organic companies.

European Organic Congress 2023

The Congress has received institutional support from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the Spanish Government; the Andalusian Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, and the Cordoba Provincial Council, among other private collaborators. The location was an added value.

The city of Cordoba, in Andalusia, was the chosen location for an excellent organisation of the event, which took care of the details and showed its efficiency in the different aspects that make the difference. It managed to meet the timings without pressuring the participants, who turned the patio of the Palacio de Congresos into an open forum on the main topics of discussion. In the meantime, energies were restored with carefully selected, carefully prepared and well presented products from Spain.

There was an attendance of more than 350 participants from 24 countries. They came from the European Union, the United States, South America and Africa, representing all the links in the organic food chain: production, industry, marketing, certification, consumption, research, services and specialised press.

Presentations by more than 50 speakers focused on assessing the challenges facing organic production

Looking towards the ever-approaching 2030, the presentations of the more than 50 speakers focused on presenting and assessing the challenges facing organic production. Topics such as the new environmental policies, how legislation can be influenced, marketing and its derivatives, international markets with unique needs, the contribution of organic farming to carbon sequestration and its relationship with climate change and the necessary promotion of organic products through the dissemination of knowledge were discussed. It has also discussed generational renewal in organic pioneering companies.

An important step towards boosting organic consumption is the request that a percentage of food purchases for hospitals, the army, public canteens, etc., by the administration, be organic. This is a pending duty to promote this system, which protects and benefits soil and water and ends up having an impact on the common good and a considerable reduction in the costs involved in decontaminating water or regenerating soil, for example.

At the Congress, participants agreed to highlight the recognised value of the EU Organic Logo, the European label that identifies true sustainability as opposed to the greenwashing of new labels and terms that can dilute and confuse producers and consumers; the need to maintain the environmental policy commitment even in turbulent times and to improve information to the public on the advantages of organic products for their health and that of the environment and how to recognise them.

European Organic Congress 2023
©IFOAM Organics Europe. Session on Opportunities and challenges for a sustainable agri-food system.

Álvaro Barrera, President of Ecovalia, emphasised that “the organic production congress held in Córdoba was a great success. We have put on the table the main topics that concern the sector and we have collected the analysis of the main protagonists, speakers of high international reputation. There is no going back on the environmental ambition and organic production is the solution. We are a professional, innovative and responsible sector with a common goal, for our food and for agricultural production, a future centred on organic production, which is more necessary and useful than ever”.

Jan Plagge, President of IFOAM Organics Europe, added: “Despite facing increasing headwinds, in the European organic movement we have clear objectives: we want to leave the planet in good shape for the future and for generations to come. It is clear that we need to transform the system as many organic operators are already doing. Less pesticides, more biodiversity, better soils and better water storage. Organic is part of the solution.

Participants all agreed to highlight the recognised value of the Euroleaf, the European seal that identifies true sustainability in the face of greenwashing

Encouraging feedback from congress attendees

“From the Inter-American Commission for Organic Agriculture we see the relationship we are strengthening with the countries of the European Union and especially those of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, which are member states of our commission, as very positive. Being in this 17th edition of the Congress and being able to exchange ideas and discuss challenges, challenges and opportunities, opens a window for us to strengthen this relationship and build these bridges that are so important to us. The most urgent challenges to be addressed are, for example, the additional measures that the EU has imposed. We do not understand the basis for some of the matrices of the products exported by certain markets. We understand that there is no defined criteria. We are taking control measures in the countries to detect the error and we must act on that margin of error, but not with additional measures that could mean high costs for producers. For example, 10% of shipments must have a new inspection, traceability, laboratory analysis costs, among others,” says CIAO President Rommel Betancourt. CIAO represents 16% of the world’s organic food production.

“At the Congress, it became clear which are the main issues that we need to be concerned about in the coming months. First of all, we must ask for political recognition that organic farming is the highest category in terms of sustainability. We have talked about the European Action Plan, which has the objective of 25% of the agricultural surface area being organic by 2030 in the whole of the Union, and we emphasise that in order to achieve this, it is essential to encourage consumption. This means promoting awareness of organic farming and public funds in large amounts to raise public awareness of the advantages of organic products. On the other hand, it has been reported that the new genomic techniques, whose legalisation is now under discussion during the Spanish presidency, are not detectable and represent a very serious danger of contaminating organic farming,” says Joan Picazos, President of ASOBIO.

“A very interesting and necessary Congress where the institutions and public administrations and the most relevant actors in the sector are represented. It is important because we all share the vision and the importance of the development and greater presence of organic production and consumption. I believe that the greatest need lies in the divergence between the percentage achieved in organic production to date and the very low consumption. We must be able to focus our efforts on drawing up an action plan to boost this consumption, which in turn will generate the supply of organic products on the market. We know that the driving force behind people’s decision to go organic is their health and that of their families and, secondly, environmental awareness. We need to be able to highlight, with data, and share information on the importance for people’s health, with an emphasis on this,” says Sophie Pagnon, Head of Communication at Veritas.

European Organic Congress 2023
©IFOAM Organics Europe. Closing remarks by Jan Plagge, President of IFOAM Organics Europe, and Álvaro Barrera, President of Ecovalia.

“The Congress is like a showcase of what Europe considers, which sometimes does not fit in with our expectations, but that’s the way it is. It is important to get to know a range, the wider the better, of all the opinions of what is being incubated in Europe, influencing the agricultural policy that we follow, because let’s not forget that we are immersed in European agricultural policy. As a producer, and speaking of basic production, which is the step that touches the ground, I see that it is very far from the legislator, who is at the top of the chain. It is possible that events like this are useful to facilitate contact and establish the communication path between the legislator and the producer. The reality is that the market is not growing, the consumer is not consuming. We have a problem, we are producing, but the consumer is not purchasing and prices are going down for the producer, even though they are going up for the consumer. For all these reasons, it is very good that there is a space for debate”, Vicente Faro, president of the Consell d’Agricultura Ecològica de la Comunitat Valenciana (CAECV).

“The Congress was very interesting because once again it was able to bring together people involved in the sector, some with a lot of experience, but also young people. It is an active sector. The sessions covered a variety of topics, but they were very discursive, with many presentations, but little debate. It seems to be difficult to organise events where debate is at the centre. The debates took place mainly in the periods between sessions, in the coffee breaks and over lunch. But what I came away with is the idea that the sector has challenges to face.I liked the sentence expressing that organic farming is certified, has controls, European standards, that the European Union assumes them, and this should be crucial, essential to move towards an organic transition. Many labels will appear, regenerative, sustainable, etc., but if we already have this framework, let’s work on it and promote it. It has also been a pleasure to come to the Congress and to meet students from the Master’s degree that we have been teaching for 25 years and through which more than 700 students from many countries have passed, some of them today in relevant positions in the sector, actively working for the agroecological transition”, Francesc Xavier Sans, Doctor in Biology and Director of the Master’s degree in Organic Agriculture at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona since 1999.

Author: Montse Mulé, Editor.

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