‘Thanks to Timmermans, organic is now part of the social debate’ – Maaike de Reuver interviews Michaël Wilde, director of Bionext – Foodlog

Maaike de Reuver: What developments do you see in the organic sector?

Michaël Wilde: “Since the European Union announced in May 2021 that 25% of Europe’s agricultural land must be organic by 2030 (which is still 8%, and 5% in the Netherlands – ed.), the image of the organic sector completely changed. This announcement by the EU is part of the Green Deal, the sustainable agriculture and food strategy for the coming years that was launched by Climate Commissioner Frans Timmermans. This strategy works towards climate-neutral agriculture in 2050. Organic farming must therefore play a major role in this.”

“You can see from all sides that since these plans were announced, much more attention has been paid to the organic sector. We are – finally – taken seriously. We count. Organic is more relevant in the media, in education, for banks, for provinces, for international organizations, for politics, and also for supermarkets. We are now part of the social debate.”

This extra attention also leads to more criticism. Last Wednesday there was an opinion piece in De Telegraaf in which the authors say that you only really help the climate if you ignore green advice. How do you deal with that?
“As an organic sector, we are in the spotlight, but at the same time we are under a magnifying glass. This also makes opponents more heard. The other side of the story is that many other parties actually want to know more. There is a huge lack of knowledge when it comes to the value of organic. We want to share that knowledge with as many people as possible, and we are looking for collaboration with other farmers’ initiatives, even if they are not organic.”

“I was recently on an opinion panel that included Caroline van der Plas, leader of the BoerBurgerBeweging. It comes from conventional agriculture and does not have much to do with organic. But she stands up for the countryside, and therefore also for organic farmers. She was absolutely right in my statement that we should stay away from polarization. People who benefit from polarization don’t want to change. And if there is one thing that is clear in the field of food and agriculture, it is that we must change if we want to continue to feed our children and grandchildren in a healthy way. We have to put this change into effect together. Organic farmers and non-organic farmers.”

As an organic sector, we are in the spotlight, but at the same time we are under a magnifying glass

What makes organic farming different from regular farming?

“To put it very simply, and without losing weight, I always explain it as follows: organic farmers produce food in collaboration with nature. How do they do that? They use no chemical crop protection agents and no fertilizers. The animals come out more often and have more room to move.”

Many people don’t mind organic much until they see the higher price tag. How do you view that?
“Research shows that for 70% of the Dutch, the higher price of organic products is the reason that they do not put the products in the shopping basket. It is up to the entire organic sector to show consumers that the price is worth paying. Together with Finland, Sweden and Flanders, we are now setting up an international campaign in which we want to entice citizens to choose organic products – without being negative about non-organic products, by the way.”

“Another argument that supporters of the organic sector often use is: ‘Organic is not too expensive, regular is too cheap’. Regular agriculture entails many hidden costs that we ultimately have to pay together. Buying organic products is an investment in your personal health and in nature and the climate.”

The bio knowledge week will start next Monday, a digital variant of the annual Biobeurs. What exactly does the week mean?
“The Organic Knowledge Week is an online knowledge week with 126 workshops, including a crash course on organic regulations, a workshop on organic revenue models and ‘No shit’, a program with everything about (artificial) fertilizer. Anyone interested in the organic sector can participate. During the week we want to connect to society and share knowledge. At the physical Biobeurs, which we always organized in January before the corona time, you saw that the fair was often a reunion of people from the sector. Now we see from the participants of the knowledge week that there are also many people from outside the sector. This also shows that the interest in organic is really increasing.”

This article previously appeared on Food Inspiration

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‘Thanks to Timmermans, organic is now part of the social debate’ – Maaike de Reuver interviews Michaël Wilde, director of Bionext – Foodlog