Toespraak van staatssecretaris Van Dam bij het 10e European Organic Congress

Toespraak van staatssecretaris Van Dam (EZ) tijdens het 10e European Organic Congress in Driebergen op 5 april 2016. De toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Fastfood; kids love it, but responsible parents want to avoid it. Former global president of McDonald’s Mike Roberts saw a good business case. He wanted to show fast-food America that organic, healthy food doesn’t have to taste like straw. So 5 years ago he set up LYFE Kitchen. A fast-food chain selling sustainably produced meals with fewer than 600 calories. No cream, no salt, no artificial additives. Just organic, local ingredients, served fast in responsible packaging. Now there are 15 successful LYFE Kitchen restaurants across the US.

Mike Roberts didn’t only want to change America’s eating habits. He also wanted to optimise the supply of high-quality, healthy food. It was vital for his company’s success. Like us, he saw the pressure today’s food system is under. An expanding global population crying out for more; our planet Earth crying out for less. Powerful clients are forcing farmers to compete on price. While consumers are demanding more environmentally-friendly, animal-friendly and healthy products. They also want to know how their food is made. They’re rejecting long, complex supply chains.

The organic sector offers an alternative to our industrialised food system. You are pioneers in creating a more natural way of producing food. Where healthy people, healthy animals and a healthy planet are the priority. For decades you’ve used natural fertilisers and plant protection products, and you’ve closely focused on animals’ natural needs. And every year, consumers reward you with higher sales figures. As a result, you’re also inspiring the conventional food sector to improve sustainability.

So transforming food and farming through organics is not only the motto of this conference. It’s also your ambition for the future. That’s no easy task. The organic sector can only keep pioneering if it keeps developing. Right now, it risks being a victim of its own success. In Europe, supply cannot meet demand. This means the balance between imports and production is sometimes lost. The Netherlands now imports organic milk, for example. While we have a surplus of its non-organic counterpart.

You must also work to remain distinct from the conventional food sector, which is working hard to improve sustainability. It’s responding to demand for more honest, natural food. And it’s winning consumers’ trust - even without organic labels. It’s putting the farmer in the spotlight, for example. It’s selling products in food boxes, and at markets and supermarkets that promote 'honest food'. All these trends mean the organic sector needs to find a solid business case based on its ideals, like Mike Roberts did.

The organic sector needs the scope to do business and innovate. But it also needs rules to strengthen consumer trust. With the new organic farming regulation, Europe wants to find the right balance. The Netherlands wants to successfully conclude trilogue negotiations during its EU Presidency in the first half of this year. This is also a major ambition for me personally. Because consumers and producers have to know where they stand well in advance. But before we can conclude the negotiations, we need to resolve a few dilemmas.

Consumers want a wider range of organic products. Including mangos, chocolate and coffee, all of which are produced outside Europe. Sometimes, to guarantee quality in warmer producer countries, other plant protection products are used than those normally allowed for organic farming in Europe. How flexible are we willing to be when it comes to importing organic produce from further afield?

We face another dilemma when it comes to inspecting and certifying freshly prepared organic products sold on a small scale. Like soup or sandwiches sold from market stalls and food trucks. Right now, caterers are exempted because, for them, the costs outweigh their modest returns. The European Parliament now wants to abolish this exemption, so that consumers can be sure their food really is organic. But this may mean that caterers no longer wish to sell organic products. And they may disappear from our markets and festivals.

And finally: how much leeway should we give process or product innovations that are not entirely in line with organic principles? A good example is the Koeientuin or 'Cow Garden'. A new livestock housing concept. The cows can come and go as they please. Inside it's green, light and spacious. Manure and urine are separated through the springy floor that feels like a pasture. Ideal for manure fermentation or fertilisation. And ammonia emissions are low, limiting disruption for neighbours. Per cow, the costs are no higher than conventional housing. A fantastic idea. But not technically organic. Because there’s no straw for the cows to sink their hooves into… The Netherlands has asked the European Commission to consider classifying this concept as organic.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Only a few years ago, organic farming seemed to be associated with our past. Producing food in a natural way, as we had done for centuries. Now, organic farming is associated with the future. Natural, animal-friendly food that’s in balance with our earth and climate.

In 2016 organic products are hip, and available everywhere. You are successfully responding to the demand for better, more honest and natural food. As shown by the increasing presence of organic produce in our supermarkets, restaurants, the catering sector and on the high street. Organic may not yet be the norm. But it is a conscious choice for a growing number of consumers.

Our biggest challenge is to keep producing high-quality, healthy food in a responsible way for future generations. That's no easy task. LYFE Kitchen’s growth is limited by its ability to source enough local organic produce. Producing hundreds of kilos of organic sprouts locally is no mean feat, it seems.

As a sector, you must consider how to maintain production and keep pioneering sustainability. There’s still a lot to be done in terms of saving energy and water, and reducing carbon emissions. You should also take inspiration from the conventional food sector. This conference is a great opportunity to discuss how to work together for sustainable growth. I wish you a productive few days.

Thank you.