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26 Sep, 2005

Organic Food Industry Terms Itself a “Liberation Movement”

A conference in Australia last week has focussed attention on the growing global market share of organic agricultural produce and suggested that the travel & tourism industry look seriously at boosting its usage in food & beverage outlets.

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) President Gunnar Rundgren of Sweden said that the 1,000 delegates from 72 countries who convened in Adelaide from September 20-23 were like a ‘liberation movement’ seeking to increase their market share against “a very powerful alliance of big input supply companies, parts of the food industry and the larger part of the agricultural establishment.”

The organic agriculture industry boasts a $26 billion market for its products worldwide. Mainstream travel & tourism is a fractional user of organic produce, but its health and wellness component is becoming an important customer.

The final IFOAM congress declaration called on governments to boost investment in organic agriculture, endorse and practically support it, internalise social and environmental costs in the prices of agricultural products and remunerate organic farmers for ecosystem services they provide.

It also called on “international agribusiness to listen to the consumer and to embrace more organic principles, and thus develop truly sustainable agricultural and food systems.”

Mr Rundgren said, “IFOAM calls on governments to allocate sufficient resources in this green growth-industry. Give us the resources spent over the last fifty years on chemical farming and we will present miracles!”

He noted “My own home country, Sweden, has a target that 20 percent of the land should be organically farmed by year 2005, and I can happily announce that it is almost accomplished – the latest figures state 19 percent.”

Australian Senator Richard Colbeck, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, emphasised, “In line with international trends, the organic movement is experiencing unprecedented interest in Australia and rapidly gaining mainstream consumer and producer acceptance.

“With local demand for organic produce substantially outstripping supply, there is enormous scope for expanding the range and volume of organic product offered to Australian – and international – consumers.”

Andre Leu, Chair of the Organic Federation of Australia said, “There are not too many good news stories in agriculture. It is in crisis on every continent with farmers struggling to survive.

“In Australia we have lost over 20,000 farmers in the last decade and it is similar in most countries. However the number of organic farmers continues to increase and we have proven that can provide the most important of commodities, healthy food. We are truly one of the good news stories, a wonderful ray of hope for our world.”

Australia is said to have over 1,130,000 hectares and 2,170 farms under organic management, accounting for 42.7% of the global total.

The Congress presented 360 papers on a range of issues including development policies, contributions of organic agriculture to biodiversity, climate change, fossil fuel depletion and carbon sequestration, social justice, food security and quality, animal husbandry and animal welfare, and national perspectives of organic agriculture’s contribution to rural development.

Alongside, the newly established International Scientific Conference on Organic Agriculture delved into the latest research and technical advances while the 8th International IFOAM Organic Viticulture and Wine Conference brought together the world’s experts on organic wine.

At a time of both high oil prices and environmental degradation, the congress was told of a Cornell University study showing that organic farming produces the same yields of corn and soybeans as does conventional farming, but uses 30 percent less energy, less water and no pesticides.

Mr Rundgren said market shares of organic products have increased rapidly, reaching around 5 percent in Denmark and Switzerland.

He said organic producers have created new and innovative marketing schemes, developed Community Supported Agriculture, boosted the quality of their research and managed to get organic into the centre of the agricultural policy debate.

“Many international organisations, the European Union and many governments have recognised the relevance of organic. Both countries in the North and in the South; Germany, UK, Brazil, Costa Rica and several Indian states have set targets for organic.”

He said it is “very important to show that another reality is possible, that humankind is not forced to destroy the whole planet in our quest for happiness, a good life and fulfillment.

“On the contrary, by destroying nature, man is eroding the very foundation for our happiness, a good life and fulfilment. Industrial and chemical farming practices destroy nature, they cause the eradication of species, they pollute, they degrade the food, they even kill an unknown number of people.”

Mr Rundgren said IFOAM would have to boost its education and dialogue efforts with all potential organic farmers, i.e. the common farmer, and also build partnerships with environmental, consumer and social movements.

“We are a liberation movement, a movement to liberate animals from cages, to liberate acres from poisoning, to liberate farmers from the chemical treadmill, to give safe and good food to the people,” he said.

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