Interview with Eduardo Cuoco

Learn about IFOAM EU’s advocacy for organic regulation, push for 20% organic land use, and transformation in the entire organic system through Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) policy proposals.

IFOAM EU is the European umbrella organisation for organic food and farming. As such, it fights for the adoption of ecologically, socially and economically sound systems based on the principles of organic agriculture—health, ecology, fairness, and care. With over 210 member organisations, IFOAM EU’s work covers the entire organic food chain and beyond.

Hailing from Naples, Italy Eduardo Cuoco has dedicated his entire career to the organic farming industry. Eduardo first joined IFOAM EU in 2008 as a Research Coordinator. In addition to having served as a Council Member to IFOAM’s technological innovation platform, TIPI, over the past decade, he has actively helped establish and manage TP Organics, the European Technology Platform for organic food and farming. In 2016, Eduardo was appointed Director of IFOAM EU. 

Hi Eduardo! The European Commission's new set of organic regulations will come into effect in 2021. Tell us about IFOAM EU's role in and contributions towards these policies.

IFOAM EU is the federation that represents the organic supply chain in the EU. We are based in Brussels and act on behalf of farmers, food industry traders, and retailers, as well as associate certification bodies and research and advisory services. Our organisation has been very active in advocating for the new organic regulation that will come into force in 2021. Since 2012—the year these regulations were published—and 2018—the year of the approval of the basic act—we have sent institutions more than 100 position papers. We have also organised numerous events, meetings, and conferences. With this scope, we have worked to ensure that organic regulations would not harm the development of our sector and would further improve the way we produce organic food. 

Since the approval of the basic act in 2018, we started a new round of work focused on developing secondary legislation. This includes developing the specific rules for production, developing a control system, and more. Thanks to the huge network connected to our organisation, IFOAM EU has been able to offer policymakers a sound understanding of the direction to take for all the different ideas of organic production, including examples, such as aquaculture or group certifications, in each country. We will keep monitoring the development of these regulations around ten regulations still need to be agreed upon before the end of the year and the implementation of these regulations starts. You can always stay informed about the latest developments and follow what is happening on the regulation front on our webpage.



IFOAM EU recently announced that it is now pushing the EU to implement a 20% organic land target. How far is the EU currently from away from this target? And what key obstacles will member states need to overcome if they hope to achieve this collectively? 

IFOAM EU works to transform the food system in Europe. We aim to have a better, more sustainable food system that is fairer for farmers and all the other actors in the supply chain. In this context, we have been monitoring the market development of organic food. We can see that with the current ‘business-as-usual’ scenario in policymaking, we could reach around 10-12% by 2030. But we are advocating for 20% organic land use because we believe it is time for a shift in policymaking to policies that can support the transition towards a more sustainable food system. So in this context, we're advocating to attain an average of 20% organic land in Europe within the next ten years. This can be done, permitted we see a new approach in policies. Currently, we are advocating for this target in the EU’s Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategy, which are part of the European Commission's New Green Deal

At IFOAM EU, we believe that with a combined push and pull policy approach, this target may be achieved in the next ten years. Especially concerning the push policy, we believe that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)—which is currently under review—can be a vital tool in helping farmers convert to organic, maintain their organic status, as well as to help other farmers slowly become more sustainable, for example via the implementation of Eco-schemes

When I talk about food policy, I am, for example, talking about higher targets for the promotion of organic products and targeting public procurement for organic products. All these points should be accompanied by an ambitious organic action plan on a European level to bring these policies together in a consistent way.

 

The COVID-19 outbreak has had significant impacts on Europe's food supply chains. What disruptions has IFOAM EU observed in recent weeks? Can you already foresee any long-term effects from these challenges?

COVID-19 is not only impacting our lives, but also our supply chains, including that of the organics industry. Thanks to our members, at IFOAM EU, we are observing what is happening in different countries across Europe. I would say that the biggest challenge ahead is the limited movement of workers between different countries, which may impact harvesting and planting. 

We are also facing a problem when it comes to inspections in the organic farming industry due to the limitations of physical inspections. We might also experience issues with transportation in the long-term because of the lack of containers. And our farmers who used to rely on direct selling are facing real income issues because direct sales are currently forbidden in many countries. 

COVID-19 also presents opportunities, and we can see that the organic sector is resilient in thinking about how to adapt to this new situation. We see certification bodies starting to do online inspections and providing certification with the help of e-tools. We also see that many of our farmers managed to reorganise themselves quite quickly by moving from direct sales to box schemes, or by moving from providing foods to hotels and restaurants to providing ready-to-eat food for consumers. 

Overall, we are experiencing higher sales throughout Europe, and this is promising because it seems that, in times of crisis, consumers really are going to choose organic. In the mid-to-long-term, I believe we may face problems with the implementation of [the CAP’s] new regulations, which are supposed to be in place on the 1st of January 2021. For this reason, IFOAM EU is asking the EU Commission to postpone the entry date by one year to give the industry time to focus on the crisis now and then, in 2021, to focus on how best to implement these new regulations.
 

IFOAM EU's vision for 2030 highlights three key pillars: (1) Organic on every table (2) Improve, inspire, deliver (3) Fair play, fair pay. In what ways is your roadmap for the upcoming decade geared towards these pillars? How does the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) play into this?

IFOAM EU stands for the transformation of the food system, and we established our vision around three main pillars. The first, Organic on every table, is about making sure that policymakers and consumers recognise the value of organic food, and that organic food is available to everyone. The second pillar is Improving, inspiring, and delivering—improving our practices and starting to change while also delivering not only quality foods but public goods to society. The third goal, Fair play, fair pay, is about achieving a supply chain that is fair for the various actors and also fair in terms of payments to the different actors in the supply chain and the cost of food for the consumers.

In this context, we are looking at the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as an important tool to push for change in the supply chain. The CAP represents 40% of the EU’s budget, so it can really help transform the food system. At IFOAM EU, we are pushing for 70% of the CAP’s budget to be allocated toward climate and environmental measures. We believe that public money should go toward public goods. And we also believe that both our first and second pillar can help achieve this goal. 

The first pillar’s Eco-schemes would not only help organic farmers but would allow the overall farming community to become more sustainable, to get engaged in more sustainable practices. The second pillar can be a very important tool for the creation of redevelopment plans to boost innovation in farms and to support farmers who are going organic when geared both towards conversion and maintenance. A mix of the tools in the two pillars could provide the proper support for this transformation. At IFOAM EU, we have studied this CAP proposal in great detail and published a range of different studies related to our findings. I invite you to go to the library on our website to read our guide for stakeholders and public authorities on how to use Eco-schemes to support organic farmers.

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Over the past decade, European consumers have doubled their consumption of organic products. What does IFOAM identify as the most significant drivers for this shift in demand?

Over the last ten years, the organic market has increased by more than 150%. This happened during a period in which Europe was going through a massive crisis. But the organic sector managed to keep growing. Looking at growth in terms of land, we estimate that organic land in the EU has increased by over 75% in the last ten years. In the organic industry, we have experienced annual growth of about 8% over the last five years. In some countries in Europe, such as Austria and Estonia, the share of organic land is already over 20%. We also have countries where a considerable amount of land is farmed under organic principles—in Spain, Italy, and France, for example, the organically certified land area is at almost 2 million hectares per country, which is quite a large number. When it comes to the market, we have seen examples such as Denmark where the organic market has grown to claim more than 10% of the share of the overall food market. 

Consumers are buying organic for environmental reasons, such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Furthermore, animal welfare is an important part of consumer choice, as is the health of individuals and our ecosystems. Finally, many consumers are buying organic foods for their quality and taste. We believe that consumers started to identify that intensive farming poses a threat to biodiversity, climate change, and the health of future generations. For these reasons, they are choosing organic as an alternative to the intensive system. One could say that consumers and citizens have made choices, and these choices show that they do buy organic food daily to support a better environment and a better ecosystem for the future.

 

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