Ifoam EU: New challenges for organic Processors and Traders

BIOFACH 2015 seminar

An obligatory system for measuring the environmental performance of processors and traders has been proposed by the Commission. Three reports with recommendations on organic processing practices, additives, flavour and processing aids delivered by the Expert Group for Technical Advice in Organic Production (EGTOP) in 2014. IFOAM EU proposed a way to reach the 100% organic ingredient concepts. All this happened in 2014. It is now the moment for stakeholders to discuss and to support the further progress of organic processing and trading towards the next level of sustainabilityimage003

Moderator:  Erkki Pöytäniemi, Organic Food Finland
Speaker: Dr. Alexander Beck, AÖL
Speaker : Charles Pernin, Synabio
Speaker: Bavo Van den Idsert, Bionext

Friday 13th February at 14.00 – 14.45

Room Istanbul
You can find the rest of the IFOAM EU program at BioFach 2015 here.

The Myths of Safe Pesticides

In October I participated in the IFOAM Organic World Conference in Istanbul. The IFOAM World Conferences are not really about business even though some market data is available in some presentations. It is more about the content; about what organic farming and organics in general is about. There would be a lot to tell about, but here I want to talk about a book I bought there. André Leu is the President of IFOAM but he is also an organic farmer and he has written a book – published in 2014 – about pesticides: “The Myths of Safe Pesticides“.  For someone like myself who has been in organics for decades there isn’t so much in the book that is really news, but putting it all together in a concise presentation of all the facts is impressive – and shocking. This is something more people should be aware of and therefore I’m doing my little part in promoting the book and giving a short review of the content. You should all buy the book from IFOAM and read it.

André works through 5 myths:

  1. The “Rigorously Tested” Myth
  2. The “Very Small Amount” Myth
  3. The “Breakdown” Myth
  4. The “Reliable Regulatory Authority” Myth
  5. The “Pesticides are Essential to Farming” Myth

In the following I’ll highlight some main points. Read the book for more details and the arguments for each point.

 (Erkki Poytaniemi, Erkki Pöytäniemi)

André Leu speaking at the IFOAM Organic World Conference in Istanbul 15th October 2014.


1. The “Rigorously Tested” Myth 

“All agricultural poisons are scientifically tested to ensure safe use.”

  • Current toxicity testing fail to represent the nature of human exposure to chemicals.
  • The actual chemical cocktails in food and water are not tested for.
  • The combination of pesticides with toxins produced by GMO-plants (Bt) is not tested for.
  • Only single active chemicals are tested, not the actual combinations that are used. F.ex. Roundup (commercial product) is much more toxic than glyphosate (active ingredient).
  • Pesticides are compounds with active ingredients and “inerts” (solvents, adjuvents, surfactants etc). Only single active ingredients are tested even though their toxicity increases by multiple factors (up to 1000 x in some cases) when combined the inerts. Most inerts are toxic.
  • Only acute toxicity is tested to determine the LD50 (lethal dose). Adverse effects must occur within 2 weeks of the chemical being administered to be considered. Other health issues including cancers, birth defects, nervous system damage etc are not considered.
  • ADI (acceptable daily intake) and MRL (maximum residue limit) are not set for any formulated products – they are only set for the “active ingredient”.
  • The vast majority of registered pesticide and veterinary products have not been tested.
  • The special sensitivity of the developing foetus and newborn are not taken into account in testing. The testing is typically done with animals in their adolescence.
  • Nervous system damage is not tested even though it is known that many pesticides function as nerve poisons that can affect adversely children’s neurological development.
  • Pesticide damage can occur in subsequent generations.


2. The “Very Small Amount” Myth

“The residues are too small to cause any problems.”

  • Most pesticide residues are below the ADI (acceptable daily intake) and MRL (maximum residue limit) set by authorities and therefore the food is said to be safe.
  • However there are problems as described above.
  • Especially the fact that chemicals can act like hormones means that much lower residue levels can be toxic. These are called endocrine disruptions.
    • Can cause reproductive problems in humans and animals.
    • Can cause decreasing age of breast development in girls and is considered a risk factor for developing breast cancer later in life.
    • Can cause obesity and type 2 diabetes.
    • Fetuses, newbores and growing children are most vulnerable.
  • The dose-response is not necessarily linear; in some cases the lowest doses can be more toxic that higher doses.
  • Glyphosate at residue levels commonly found in people induce human breast cancer cells to multiply – even more so if combined with genistein, a phytoestrogen found in soybean (glyphosate usage has vastly increased with planting of GMO soybean).
  • Close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to interfere with hormone receptors, hormone synthesis or hormone conversion. Most chemicals have not been tested.
  • Regulatory authorities have no scientific basis or evidence supporting the assumption that exposure to chemical residues is safe at recommended levels.


3. The “Breakdown” Myth

“Modern pesticides rapidly biodegrade.”

  • Most agricultural and veterinary chemicals leave residues in food (that’s why they are tested).
  • Most pesticides leave residues of breakdown products or daughter chemicals when they degrade. Where there is any research, it shows that many of these metabolites cause health and reproductive problems. Many organophosphates’ metabolites are more toxic (up to 100 x) than the original pesticide.
  • Apart from break-down products pesticides contain impurities and by-products from the manufacturing process which are largely ignored by regulatory authorities. These include dioxins.
  • There is virtually no testing to detect residues and by-products of pesticides in our food and water and there are no safety levels for those chemicals.
  • Because not all chemicals are tested for it is not correct to say that any food is free of residues.


4. The “Reliable Regulatory Authority” Myth

“Trust us – we have it all under control.”

  • It is claimed that there is no risk when chemicals are used as per “Good Agricultural Practices”. However how farmers use chemicals is not monitored.
  • In developing countries many of the farmers using the chemicals are illiterate and often also the sales agents who are supposed to advice them are illiterate.
  • Consequently the highest rates of pesticide poisonings are among farmers, their families, farm workers and in rural communities in the developing world.
  • In developed countries food is tested for residues. However food is considered safe if residues are below MRL’s. Weather residues below MRL’s are safe is highly questionable (for reasons described above).
  • Regulatory authorities disregard a large body of published science that shows that the current methods of determining the safety of agricultural poisons are grossly inadequate. Instead authorities rely on unpublished industry studies commissioned for regulatory purposes.
  • Authorities do not take preventive action but instead take action only after years of public concern of the civil society and scientific community.
  • Regulatory authorities using unpublished, non-peer-reviewed, industry sponsored studies should be seen as a major problem in current regulatory decision making process.


5. The “Pesticides are Essential to Farming” Myth 

“We will starve to death without pesticides.”

  • Organic farming methods clearly show that using pesticides and other chemicals in farming is not necessary.
  • There are several examples of high-yielding organic systems from all over the world.
  • Organic farming is successful despite virtually all agricultural research has focused on chemical industrial agriculture for the last 100 years.
  • 85% of the world’s farmers are smallholders and 70% of the world’s food is produced by smallholders. Organic farming can increase production on smallholder farms up 3 times current production levels.
  • According to FAO , with a more than 100% increase in food production in traditional farming systems in developing countries, organic agriculture provides an ideal solution to end hunger and ensure global food security. This is without farmers needing to rely on inputs they cannot afford.
  • Pesticides can be replaced with non-chemical methods.


In the above I have just picked some points from the book. I recommend reading the book with al the arguments and facts that are behind these points. In the meantime if you are not sure that pesticides and other chemicals are safe for you, our children and the environment, it might be better to avoid them.


Don’t panic – eat organic!



The Myths of Safe Pesticides

Sector Group Organic Processing and EduOFB meeting in Espoo, Finland 11.-12. June 2012

 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

IFOAM: Growing Organic

The web pages are a source of information for developing organic sectors of all kinds, even growing organic food and composting in the backyard. They represent the cumulative knowledge and experience of IFOAM, the umbrella organization for Organic Agriculture, and are a community resource designed to represent and serve global Organic movements.

Q&A- Interview with Erkki

The questions are from my friend and customer Selina Gan at Country Farms, Malaysia and the interview will be also published in their Newsletter.

Q&A-; Interview with Erkki.

1. What’s the purpose of Organic Certification?

The purpose of certification is to protect the integrity and trustworthiness of organic production and products. By having a reliable inspection and certification system we ensure that consumers are getting the pure organic products they are paying for. Likewise we are protecting the farmers and producers against unfair competition.

2. What is behind an organic label such EU logo and Finnish certifications,

Organic certification must be based on a common understanding of what organic production is. Therefore organic standards have been developed in different regions since the 1940’s and formal third party certification schemes were started in 1970’s in Europe. IFOAM was founded in 1972 for cooperation between organic associations in different countries and for harmonization of the standards. An important step was taken in 1991 when the European Union Organic Regulation came into force and harmonized European organic standards and certifications. Importantly it states that all food products marketed as organic (in all member state languages) or as Bio or Eco must be third-party certified. It includes an organic standard and stipulates that organic products must be certified either by third-party certifiers that are accredited by the member state government or by governmental authorities. The EU organic logo can be used on all organic products that have been certified organic in an EU member state. Therefore the EU logo is guarantee that the product has been produced according to the EU organic standards and it has been certified in the EU.

In Finland we have a governmental certification system run by the Food Safety authorities (Evira).

3. How do organic farmers fertilize crops and control pests, diseases, and weeds?

An underlying idea of organic farming is that chemicals that are foreign to nature are not used. Therefore chemical fertilizers and pesticides are prohibited. But it is wrong to say that organics would be going back to old farming methods. Farmers benefit from the progress in our technological and biological knowledge and apply them in a sustainable manner. Chemicals, genetic modification, hormone-treatments and routine medication of animals is not sustainable and is not accepted.

Organic farming methods must be adapted to different climates and environments. In Finland fertilizing is primarily based on crop rotations using clover lays to bind nitrogen biologically from the atmosphere and animal farms take advantage of the animal manure. Limestone, rock phosphate, stone meal etc can be used if the fields pH is too low or they are deficient in specific nutrients.

Many pest problems result from use of easily soluble chemical fertilizers and specialized monoculture farming systems (growing only one crop in large areas for several years). Organic farming strives to maintain a healthy soil and ecosystem on the farm and therefore the farmer has less pest problems to start with. In organic cereal farming in Finland weeds are controlled mainly with a well-planned crop rotation. The most important method to fight diseases is to use clean disease-free seeds – however seeds may not be treated with fungicides. If pests are a problem different methods might be used based on an understanding of the biology and life-cycle of the pest.

4. How does public response to Organic certification?

Earlier – especially before organic certification was required by law – the consumers main question was: “How do I know your product is really organic – that you are not cheating”. The only way was either to know the farmer personally or trust a certification label. Now that the EU organic regulation has been enforced for over 15 years the recognition of and the trust in the organic label is very high.

5. Why there are some producers and farmers resistant to Organic Certification?

There are 2 main points the producers complain about – and I can understand they do so. The first is the cost of inspection and certification. Especially for very small producers it does not make economical sense to bear the costs. The second reason is the burocracy that is involved. The producers must adopt very detailed quality and documentation systems. Farmers complain they are not farmers anymore – they feel they are office workers. However strict documentation is necessary for the inspection to be reliable. So unfortunately both the cost and the paperwork is necessary for the integrity of organic farming.

6. Can organic farmers produce enough food for everybody?

This is a big question but I think the answer is and must be yes. From a global perspective we should compare organic farming to two other systems of food production: modern chemical farming methods that are predominant in the West and introduced to the developing countries as the “Green Revolution” and less developed traditional farming methods that are still predominant in many parts of the developing world.

There is no doubt that organic farming does not match modern chemical farming systems in terms of yields per hectare. However chemical farming is totally oil-driven and a major contributor to climate change and pollution of the watershed. We all know that the world will be running out of oil in our lifetime and that excessive use of oil and other fossil fuels is the main contributor to climate change. Therefore we must go back to a sustainable farming systems based on biological processes and local resources – and that means organic farming. We must also bear in mind that the bulk of agricultural research has been done for chemical farming and organic farming has developed despite this. We must focus research on developing sustainable organic farming systems and this must be done with tax-payers money. Business is interested only in farming systems that depend on inputs: fertilizers, pesticides, hybrid or gmo seeds etc. They are not interested in self-sufficient sustainable farming systems because there is no business for them.

On the other hand adopting organic farming methods instead of traditional farming methods can – according to professionals – easily raise productivity 50-100% in developing countries. Organic farming is based on the important innovation of crop rotations, mixed farming and using leguminous nitrogen binding organisms in the farming system. These basic innovations have not been widely adopted yet in most developing countries although it is mostly a question of education because organic farming is not dependent on commercial inputs.

Organic farming is often referred to as an alternative farming method. Personally I don’t think we have an alternative to organic farming if we are to feed everybody – certainly not when we run out of oil. We must also think of what is enough food? When people get more wealthy they tend to eat more meat. Bear in mind that producing 1 kg of meat requires 7 kg of cereals and other plant origin fodder that could be eaten by humans as well. The less we eat animal products the more there is food for everyone.

7. How can IFOAM ensure the Organic Certifications are authentic?

In the world of organic certifications we have both legislative and private certification systems. For example in the European Union, the USA and Japan organic certification is based on legislation and is compulsory. In most other regions organic certification is still enforced by private third party certification bodies. While the understanding of what organic means is broadly the same in all legislative and private systems, the devil lies in the details. The word for coping with this is harmonization. IFOAM (short for International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) has long worked for harmonization of organic standards and certification systems so that trade in organic products would be possible. IFOAM is also a very important lobbyist for the organic movement towards legislative systems. On the private side IFOAM has developed an accreditation system which is a kind of certification of certifications. Certification bodies that have been accredited by IFOAM (or actually IOAS) are recognized as complying to the Organic Basic Standard of IFOAM and to the requirements for the inspection and certification system. Most private certification bodies are IFOAM accredited because that enables their certified producers to go into export and be recognized by the certification bodies in the target country. So you might want to check that a certifier is IFOAM accredited unless it is a EU or USDA certifier. You can find a list of accredited certification bodies on IFOAM’s web-site www.ifoam.org. The EU or USDA certifications are not IFOAM accredited because they are legislative systems and all certification bodies issuing EU or USDA certificates are accredited by their respective governments. However IFOAM basic standards and IFOAM lobbying have had a great influence on EU and USDA as well as FAO’s Codex Alimentarius organic standards. We need the legislative systems for protecting organic standards but we also need to keep the initiatives to develop organic farming in the hands of organic NGO’s – and that is why IFOAM is so important.

8. Can you tell us the organic issue in Asia?

95% of organic products are sold in Western Europe and North America. Most of the remaining 5% of the market is in the Far East. The main production areas are also Europe and North America but also South America and increasingly Asia, especially China and India. South America and Asia are producing mainly for the export market although the local market is emerging rapidly. For Asia I believe it is important to spread a deeper and wider understanding of organic farming as a solution both for consumers and farmers – and the environment. A consumer is initially mostly worried about her own health and food security and chooses organic products for her own immediate benefit. It can be difficult to understand the environmental benefits especially if organic products are imported. But the fact is that promoting sustainable organic farming methods in Indonesia would make it easier to breath in Kuala Lumpur. Even converting more field area to organic in Finland will decrease climate change and benefit people in Asia on the long run. However I think the most important issue is to stop the chemicalisation of agriculture in Asia and adopt sustainable farming methods instead. As a consumer you can have your say but of course this is also a political issue.

9. How can IFOAM become popular in Asia?

IFOAM brings together all people and organizations working with and promoting organic farming and production. IFOAM members include national organic movements from all over the world, other NGO’s close to organic farming and also businesses committed to organic farming. My company is an IFOAM member. IFOAM is extremely important in defending the integrity of organics against big business and governmental forces and should get the support of all who work with organics and want to support the development of a sustainable farming system locally and globally.