O.W.N. talked with IFOAM EU Group director Marco Schlüter to find out what IFOAM EU is all about, recent achievements, challenges and strategies for 2013.

Who are IFOAM EU’s stakeholders and how do they benefit from your work?

The IFOAM EU Group is a non-profit membership-based umbrella organization for organic food and farming, and a regional body of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). It brings together more than 160 organizations, associations and enterprises ranging from processors and farmers to certifiers, research bodies and environmental and consumer organisations. We are the only organization to represent and advocate for organic food and farming as a systemic solution for food production at European level. We are a unified, strong lobby for the entire organic movement making sure its voice is heard by the people making the regulations.

How does IFOAM EU operate?

We are independent of IFOAM in terms of finances and governance. We have a board elected from national membership based in EU member states and more than 14 working groups established to develop our positions. IFOAM EU is linked to membership in IFOAM and is based on a sliding scale tied to the type of member organisation. What is a major challenge? We have a current budget of 950,000 euro, with membership fee covering about 20% of the costs, which is not sufficient to cover the costs of an effective lobby organisation, especially when you take the context into account. For example on GMOs, we’re fighting against major multinationals who pour millions and millions of euros into funding professional lobbyists. These days conventional companies are even lobbying on what additives should be allowed in organic.

What has been one of the major recent successes of IFOAM EU?

In 2012, IFOAM EU played a pivotal role in preventing the adoption of the EU Ecolabel for organic products. The proposal was to extend the EU Ecolabel for household products to food. In the worst case, it could have allowed GM products to obtain an Ecolabel. We successfully argued that there is no need for an Ecolabel on food as organic is already the most sustainable food production system recognised by the Commission. Having two potentially competing labels would lead to consumer confusion. IFOAM EU has developed a position aimed at convincing the Commission to include the improvement of environmental performance in the regulation.

Another key success of 2012 is the adoption of rules for organic wine processing, marking the first time that an organic wine can be labelled as such in the EU. This regulation was a major success as the EU took 100% of IFOAM EU’s recommendations on board, in particular regarding the reduction of sulphite levels in organic wine. The difficulty was the varied use of sulphites across Europe. We were able to broker consensus, while aiming for the highest, common standard for all. The first vintage that can be labelled organic has just become available.

Organic wine is just one example of the influence that IFOAM EU and its members have had on the regulation. In fact, there was a lengthy review of the organic regulation which started in 2005 and ended just last year. Throughout this process we were the organic stakeholder most consulted by the European Commission.

We have had many achievements including setting up a research and innovation platform dedicated to organic (TP Organics), maintaining organic support within the Common Agriculture Policy, preventing the acceptance of GMO traces in non-GMO seed and presenting more than 200 common positions – many related to organic processing – to the EU institutions.

What about GMOs getting into in animal feed or organic products?

GMO’s are a major threat and organic producers and processors face huge economic risk due to the potential for contamination from GMOs. Although GMO cultivation concerns only 0.1 per cent of all arable land in the EU by now, there is a  significant amount of GM grains being imported for animal feed and GMO contamination occurs in food and seed imports. Contamination risks would increase with a growing number of hectares under GMO cultivation or if contaminated seed would be tolerated.

We have a good network of NGOs that we liaise with to jointly monitor and influence policies related to GMOs. Our aim is to obtain binding European rules to protect GMO-free farming, in order to remove the contamination risk from organic operators and eliminate the large economic risk created by potential contamination.

Crucial for the protection of the GMO-free sector is also the implementation of the “polluter pays principle”. Under current legislation, GMO producers externalise the cost of segregation, contamination prevention and testing to those producing GMO-free food. The EU regulation for organic food and feed clearly prohibits GMOs, and an organic product containing GMO traces risks losing its organic certificate and premium price. For organic soy and maize, the farmer faces income losses of up to 40%. Policies must change, so that food is sold at a fair and honest price.

What are other major action plans and strategies for 2013?

2013 will be very important for the development of the EU organic regulations as the Commission launched a process for reviewing them, with the possibility of launching a proposal for amending organic regulation 834/2007 by the end of 2013. The first step is already a success, the Commissioner responsible for DG Agriculture agrees with the IFOAM EU position that as the regulation review just finished in 2012 and as a complete overhaul of the existing regulations would create uncertainty until 2016 for organic operators, the aim will not be a complete revision, but a focused improvement of the existing regulations.

The new EU financial framework (2014-2020) is also being decided this year with major policies impacting organic: the future of EU research & innovation funding (Horizon 2020), the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy and future promotion programmes for agriculture products. With up to €80 bn being made available for EU research, IFOAM EU is lobbying to steer the funding for research & innovation so that the allocations acknowledge the systemic approach and value provided by organic food and farming systems.

What is your strategy for 2013 in organic food processing?

The most important elements for us this year are: environmental performance, origin labelling, pharmaceutical products, and an update of the annexes of the organic regulation related to processing.Organic farmers are already subject to many regulations ensuring their environmental performance. IFOAM EU and organic processors are working together to obtain requirements in the regulation that guarantee the same level of performance at processor and trader level.

Likewise we will be advocating for the regulation on labels of origin to be adapted. Simple agricultural products like “herbal teas” and “fruit juices” which are classified as medicinal products cannot be labelled as organic because they are excluded by the current scope of EU organic regulation. We will work to include them in the scope.

Although IFOAM EU has existed since 1991, this year it is celebrating the 10th anniversary since its office moved to Brussels. It is an ideal opportunity to increase the visibility of their work, engage European organic stakeholders more and expand active membership. “We need to make more people aware that there is an IFOAM EU in Brussels that is already lobbying on their behalf. Because together we are stronger and have more influence on the development of our common interest – Making Europe More Organic”.

IFOAM EU has a challenging and exciting year ahead. Organizations can show their support of their important work for the sector by becoming members, sponsors or donors. Members can participate actively in the development of positions. For more information and to learn how to get actively involved contact laura.ullmann@ifoam-eu.org