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IFOAM Organics Europe Food Conference: Challenging times for the organic sector

Climate crisis, biodiversity loss, soil depletion, pesticides and GMOs on the production side, but also declining demand for organic and the occupation of sustainability issues by greenwashing are worrying the European organic sector. Dealing with these challenges was the topic of the IFOAM Organics Europe "Organic Food Conference" #ofc2023 in Sansepolcro at the Italian B-Corp company Aboca. Furthermore, constructive contributions on the common good economy by Christian Felber and panel discussions on intergenerational communication for organic and the new EU organic regulation inspired the audience. Besides the exciting information, the meeting offered space to visit the impressive Aboca museum and to network. Video clips of the speeches by Jan Plagge and Christian Felber.

The video gives an impression of the most important topics of OFC 2023.

Multiple challenges for the organic sector

Jan Plagge, IFOAM Organics Europe President, painted a serious picture of the current situation in his welcoming speech, pointing to the heavy rains and flooding in Italy and that such extreme weather conditions will become more frequent in the wake of the climate crisis. In his remarks in the panel discussion "Organic in a changing world", he emphasised that the organic movement with its holistic approach has many solutions and proven methods for the pressing problems. However, he said, there is a great belief in technology among many politicians, companies and scientists, who prefer genome editing to organic breeding.

Panel from left: Roberto Pinton, Maria Grazia Mammaccini, Giuseppe Liberatore, Alex Beck, Massimo Mercati.

Challenges of the Farm to Fork strategy

Maria Grazia Mammuccini, President of the Italian organic association FederBio highlighted in the panel discussion "The Sustainability Challenges of the Farm to Fork Strategy": "We are at a real turning point with the organic sector." Setting the course now for the future development of the organic sector is a challenging and responsible task, he said. It requires a strategy and a consistent policy in the EU. The original goals of the Green Deal and the Farm2Fork strategy are in danger and subsequently important demands of the organic sector. As examples, she mentioned the regulations for antibiotics, pesticides and new genetic engineering (deregulation NGT). Transitions are always a process and it must not be forgotten to get farmers on board in these complex change processes. Fast-track trade is necessary, otherwise, we will reach tipping points where soil, water and climate will be irreversibly damaged.

Flagship company Aboca

The Aboca company, embedded in an intact agricultural and cultural landscape on the edge of the Foreste Casentinesi National Park, not far from Arrezzo (Tuscany), has been taking responsibility for the environment since it was founded in 1978. From the organic cultivation of herbs, medicinal plants, animal husbandry and the processing of products, the company has implemented many sustainability goals in its 40-year history and has been Benefit Corporation and B-Corps certified since 2018. The impressive history and the premises of the natural remedy manufacturer Aboca provided an inspiring setting for the IFOAM Organic Food Conference at the company

Aboca Founder Valentino Mercati headquarters.

Aboca headquarter in Sansepolcro

„The company is part of a living system and should share the systems rules, so that sustainability is no longer merely compensation for the externalities of production, but an intrinsic part of the company itself.“

Massimo Mercati, CEO Aboca, in the B Corp Impact Report 2021.

Christian Felber: We need a people-centred economy

The title of the lecture by Christian Felber, author, university lecturer and initiator of the Common Good Economy and the Austrian Common Good Cooperative Society, was "Common Good Economy - a sustainable model". His powerful words left a deep impression on all listeners, especially when he emphasised that the current global ecological crisis requires the establishment of a sustainable, socially responsible and people-centred economic model. A model in which money is only a means to achieve the primary goal and purpose of the common good, a good life for all on a healthy planet. At the heart of this concept is the idea that value-based companies have in mind and are committed to human dignity, solidarity and social justice, environmental sustainability as well as transparency and co-determination.

In his lecture at the Organic Food Conference, Christian Felber presents the necessity of a systemic change in the economy towards the common good economy.

Greenwashing in sustainability strategies - organic must remain a pioneer

The entire agricultural and food sector is trying to jump on the sustainability bandwagon. The organic sector as a pioneer must remain avant-garde, keep the bar high for organic products and communicate this to consumers across all generations. In the panel discussion "Organic for all ages - navigating the current market with cross-generational communication", Nicoletta Maffini (General Director Mielizia Conapi), Andrea Grimm (expert and lecturer Green Marketing), Sarah Compson (IFOAM Organics Europe Group Processors & Soil Association) and Amelie Michalke, scientist University of Greifswald, expert True Prices) (pictured from left) addressed the question of how messages about organic and its benefits can best be communicated through the use of different media. "Showing heart and values", picking people up where they are, and transparency - such as True Cost Accounting - organic can build sustainable connections with consumers, the experts said. Many consumers are interested and sensitised, and this is where creative and honest communication can come in.

From left: Nicoletta Maffini (General Director Mielizia Conapi), Andrea Grimm (Expert and Lecturer Green Marketing), Sarah Compson (IFOAM Organics Europe Group Processors & Soil Association) and Amelie Michalke, Uni Greifswald, Expert True Prices)

Organic farming in a polluted world?

At the end of the conference, a panel of experts addressed the unpleasant topic of the ever-increasing global contamination of soils, air and water by toxins from pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and residues from conventional agriculture and industry. Moderated by Marian Blom, Vice-President IFOAM Organics Europe, Bernhard Speiser, FiBL, Jan Groen, Managing Director, Green Organics and Michel Reynaud, Board Member IFOAM Organics Europe and Vice-President Ecocert gave disturbing insights into the status quo, but also the possibilities to further ensure organic production by disclosing the input pathways and risk potentials, adapted risk-oriented quality controls.

Photo: Marian Blom, Jan Groen, Michel Reynaud

Text and pictures Karin Heinze


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