Minister Adema wants 15 percent of the agricultural area to be organically certified by 2030. The organic sector itself wants to innovate in order to remain distinctive. Aren’t we setting the bar too high?
There is nothing wrong with ambition. It stimulates and makes you think. Moreover, if the ambition comes from the government, rules or even legislation can be made to realize this ambition. This is also how I view Minister Adema’s action plan. He wants an agricultural area of 15 percent organic by 2030. That percentage has been agreed with all kinds of parties, so apparently many believe that this ambition can be done. I wonder if that is really the case after my visit to the Biobeurs in Den Bosch.
Minister Adema did not attend due to commitments in The Hague, which according to his replacement Guido Landheer were related to the ‘agricultural transition we are in the middle of’. Landheer himself said little new, but emphasized above all that it is up to the consumer. The action plan will therefore focus a lot on that. We can be somewhat skeptical about that, because in the past advertising campaigns have not given much growth. This is due, among other things, to the fact that Dutch consumers mainly look at the price.
What helps is action in the market. For example, van Hak, who used the fair as a platform to announce putting only organic vegetables in their jars by 2027. CEO Timo Hoogeboom said that several growers had already called on the morning of the news because they wanted to contract more hectares. Hak’s ambition could turn out well. But it could be that the jars are priced out of the market. And I find it significant that Hoogeboom called ‘organic’ on the label a risk. He states that organic has an image problem.
Nature inclusive as care
Hoogeboom thus held up a mirror to the organic sector, which the sector must do something about. But instead of worrying about that, the organic sector itself sees another problem. Chairman Douwe Monsma of Biohuis, the interest organization for organic farmers and gardeners, sees the greening of agriculture as a threat to the organic sector. When conventional agriculture becomes more inclusive of nature, how can one remain distinctive as an organic sector, he wondered. A good point in itself, but it seems more a concern for survival than for the goals pursued by the organic sector.
Suppose it is possible to get more farmers through policy or incentives to stop using chemical agents and fertilizers. And that they all want to do a little bit of nature care along ditches or hedges. In my opinion, it should be applauded from the core idea of organic. This is what the organic sector has been striving for for decades. By stating that organic must remain distinct, the bar is raised for organic farmers. And it can become prohibitive for conventional farmers who want to switch.
Now I understand Monsma’s position when I look at the pricing policy. Because an even higher cost of organic production is a good justification for a higher consumer price. But the question is whether, with inflation and probably structurally higher food prices, even after all kinds of media campaigns and optimizations in supermarkets, there is sufficient demand for these organic products.
Landheer mentioned that true pricing is being looked into in the ministry. With this, he would indicate that at least some thought is given to fiscal measures regarding our food. But knowing our government, this will sooner lead to higher rates on conventionally produced food than to a lower VAT rate on organic products. Let alone abolish VAT. I also do not consider higher rates to be likely because it directly affects the wallets of the citizens or rather the voters.
Not too stiff
I think it would be better for Landheer to indicate that the organic certification should not be viewed too strictly according to the purpose, but rather the principles of organic. At least then I see more achievable goals.