In the beginning of June a group of key players in the international organic food processing sector arrived in Helsinki. This was due to Organic Food Finland having arranged in its turn the IFOAM EU Group SGOP (Sector Group Organic Processing) meeting in Espoo.
The participants were from AoeL, BioNext/VBP, Polska Ecologica, Synabio and the Soil Association. (Andrzej can add topics of the meeting if necessary.) Apart from the meeting the program included real Finnish smoke sauna on a lakeside in the nearby Nuuksio National Park and enjoying good food at the organic restaurants of Helsinki.
For the second day of the meeting Organic Food Finland had organised a afternoon seminar for Finnish organic industry players. The main purpose of the seminar was for key players in the Finnish organic sector to learn to know about the IFOAM EU Group activities and activities of the organic industry associations in different member states. In Finland the awareness of what kind of cooperation is necessary within the organic industry nationally and in the EU is low and therefor also participation in EU networks is low. IFOAM has only 3 members from Finland.
The legislation affecting organic products and industry is decided on the EU level. Therefore manufacturers should not wait passively what is decided in Brussels, AoeL’s Alexander Beck stressed to the Finnish seminar audience. Together with the organic industry players in other member states it is possible to have an influence already when new policies are planned.
Yvonne Henkel from AoeL went into describing the details of decision making procedures in the EU. Also she stressed that with deepening international cooperation between stake holders it is possible to bring common goals forward in the Union’s decision making. Often the best partners for this are to be found with similar industry players in other countries.
Bavo van den Idsert, the Manager of Dutch BioNext and vice president of Ifoam EU Group, gave practical examples of the need for international cooperation in organic food processing. For example there are no recognised international practises for investigating the sources of pesticide residues in organic products or about measures that should be taken in residue cases. The risk is an inefficient control mechanism leading to erosion of consumer confidence. Therefore the industry itself has proposed guidelines within Ifoam EU Group.
The Finnish audience was able to learn about how international cooperation between players in residue cases has developed. The corner-stones of organics – traceability and transparency – can be achieved only by means of international cooperation and activity of the stake holders themselves, van den Idsert stressed.
Claire Largier from the French association Synabio highlighted in her presentation how their activities benefit their membership. On a national level development of the sector becomes more proactive and comprehensive when structures for cooperation exist in the form of an industry association. Thereby also influencing on EU and international levels becomes more efficient when everyone is aware of what is in the pipeline and it is possible to formulate a common position.
As an example of Synabio activities – which could also inspire other countries – Largier presented the Bioenteprisedurable tool for SME’s. Bioenteprisedurable enables companies to assess their activities from the point of view of different sustainability factors. Further the tool also enables the companies to communicate about the sustainability and responsibility of their activities.
Finally possibilities for Finland to participate better in international cooperation was discussed. In his presentation Erkki Pöytäniemi from Organic Food Finland highlighted different possibilities focusing mainly on the opportunity for the recently founded Pro Luomu organisation to have a role in this respect. The purpose of Pro Luomu is to develop the whole organic value chain in Finland and therefore international cooperation should be in a key position in its activities. The Manager of Pro Luomu, Marja-Riitta Kottila, was present in the seminar and was willing to study further Pro Luomu’s possibilities to be active in this field.
Marja Nuora and Erkki Pöytäniemi, Organic Food Finland