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OF&G attend 10th IFOAM European Congress – Transforming Food and Farming through Organics – in the Netherlands

Date Published: 15/04/2016

The congress was opened by Martijn van Dam, the Dutch Agricultural Minister. The Dutch currently hold the Presidency of the EU Council and they will, therefore, be influential in the next few months during the trilogue talks over the new EU organic regulation. It was heartening to see a government minister stand up and openly support the many benefits that organic food and farming has to offer to the wider agricultural and food industry. Many said it was not something they would have seen five years ago from a minister so the winds of change may be blowing through the corridors of power.

The remainder of the first day covered how organic production can help transform our current agri-food system, and also look at how organic stakeholders can move on from a focus on regulation. Many recognise, including OF&G, that while the regulation has value as a baseline which critically underwrites consumer confidence, there are aspects of organic food and farming that it does not encapsulate. It is felt that for the organic movement to develop fully, as we would all want, we need ways to recognise best practice beyond the regulation. This is not through further regulation but by industry as a whole working together through supply chain and producer initiatives. It was an enlightening day and OF&G is currently working on projects with other organisations which we hope will further this process.

The second day covered the new organic regulation in some detail with Diego Canga Fano representing the EU Commission, Martin Hausling representing the Parliament and Hans Hoogeveen from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs representing the Council. The discussions surrounded key issues that are currently being discussed in the trilogue talks. The Commission’s position has been heavily criticised during the trilogues and this gave an excellent opportunity for the Congress and the other members of the trilogue to air their views on the Commission’s position. Let’s hope the Commission are listening. The current trilogue discussions are behind schedule after the bombings in Brussels last month and while it was hoped the discussions would be concluded by June at the moment that would seem very unlikely. If things are not concluded by then there is the possibility that the whole process may be shelved, unfortunate given it has taken more than two years to reach the point of trilogue discussions, however, there are some current proposals in the new EU organic regulation that would be detrimental to the development of organic food and farming. This has to be seen in the light of significant demand from consumers across the EU for organic food so as Martin Hausling indicated, given the recognition that largely the current regulation is workable – better we don’t have a new organic regulation than to be saddled with an unworkable one that doesn’t secure the development that people clearly desire.