Review of BIOFACH 2024

Where does organic start? With breeding and seeds! “For many people, this idea is new – for the exhibitors at the “Meeting Point Organic Breeding”, this is a matter of course,” explained Anna-Lena May, project manager at bioverita. In order to make more people aware of the fact that organic doesn’t just start with cultivation on certified organic land, but with the time-consuming breeding of plants, the phrases “Where does organic start? With breeding and seeds!” were prominently displayed at the large joint stand for organic breeding.

Many visitors stopped to read the message, looked at the arguments presented and sought dialogue. There was plenty of opportunity to do so at the stand.

Clear message on the back of the exhibition stand

Big joint appearance

This time, 15 co-exhibitors were represented at the “Meeting Point Organic Breeding”: In addition to institutions such as the umbrella organisation Dachverband Ökologische Pflanzenzüchtung in Deutschland e.V., the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), the Bavarian State Research Centre for Agriculture (LfL) and the Seed Fund, six different organic breeding initiatives from Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands presented themselves. Six seed companies that produce and sell organic seeds and seedlings for vegetables and cereals were also represented.

The bioverita team provided information about its market partnerships with organic wholesalers and direct marketing companies. For the first time, the stand was divided into three topic islands: Organic Breeding/Research, Seed Trade and Market Partnerships. “This allows us to visualise different stages of the value chain of varieties from organic breeding at the stand,” said Markus Johann, Managing Director of bioverita.

Roberta Turoldo (FiBL) and Lucia Holmer (LfL) at the breeder`s topic island

Contact point for intensive exchange

Several registered groups such as the managers of the organic model regions in Bavaria visited the stand, organised by the Landesvereinigung für den ökologischen Landbau in Bayern e.V. (LVÖ) and the LfL. Visitors to the trade fair were also able to spontaneously join one of six tours of the stand. Various experts presented their areas of breeding, seed trading or marketing and were available to answer questions. “A format that has proven its worth,” said Charlotte Aichholz from Sativa Rheinau AG, who reported on her breeding projects as part of several tours.

“The participants were able to ask individual questions, which led to a very intensive dialogue,” she added. Making the special quality of organically bred varieties visible and tangible – what better way to do this than with tastings? In addition to apples, carrots, kohlrabi, parsnips and beetroot, a bread consisting of 70% Wiwa organic wheat could also be sampled at the stand.

Bread containing 70% organic wheat Wiwa

GMO-free food production at risk

Another topic was not only present at the “Meeting Point Organic Breeding”, but also dominated many discussions at Biofach: the endangered freedom from genetic engineering in food production in Europe. Just one week before the trade fair (7.3.24), the European Commission voted in favour of deregulating new genetic technologies (NGT). This means that in future genetically modified plants could be cultivated without authorisation and without being tested.

The current precautionary principle and risk assessment would thus be cancelled out. The final step, the approval of the EU Council of Ministers, is still pending and is – fortunately – currently considered unlikely. Nevertheless, the danger has not been averted. GMO-free cultivation, as practised by organic farmers, could be made impossible in the near future. Organic breeders in Europe would be particularly affected by this because access to breeding material that is certainly free from genetic modification would be severely restricted.

Group tour at “Meeting Point Organic Breeding”

Consequences of deregulation for the organic sector

As part of the Biofach Congress, an event organised by the Bundesverband Naturkost Naturwaren e.V. (BNN) took place on 15 March 2014 on “Impact assessment of new genomic techniques for the organic sector”. Martin Häusling (farmer and MEP for the Greens/EFA) summarised the results of studies by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and the French Food Safety Authority (ANSES): “It is repeatedly claimed that NGT is like normal breeding. But the genetic modification of plants harbours a danger for the environment, biodiversity and human health.”

He emphatically argued that we need a different kind of agriculture instead of modifying plants. This is precisely where organic plant breeding comes in. At the event, Barbara Maria Rudolf (board member of the Dachverband Ökologische Pflanzenzüchtung in Deutschland e.V. and Saat:gut e.V.) described organic plant breeding as an alternative to genetic engineering: “It is much smarter to work with nature and with nature’s systems. We [as organic breeders] allow the plant to live through its cycle, we don’t want to shape it by force. NGT is a dead end.”

Panel discussion organised by BNN

Great experience with the varieties from organic breeding

At the same time, she pointed out that organic breeding is still massively underfunded. The organic sector has not yet realised that it needs more organic breeding and more organic varieties so that organic agriculture can become independent. “If the disastrous legislation comes into force, everyone will suddenly have to resort to organically bred varieties. Then we will have a problem with availability, which will have to be built up gradually over the years.”

Boris Voelkel was all the more encouraging. He also sat on the podium and reported on a relevant strategic decision made by juice producer Voelkel. Ten years ago, the company decided to stop using hybrid varieties for the production of vegetable juices and to focus on open-pollinated varieties instead. Many of the growers, as well as Voelkel employees in processing, sales and marketing, were initially against this. Voelkel stated that sales of the juices have grown disproportionately since then and added: “I would like to encourage everyone. Dare to try the varieties from organic breeding. They have a high vitality and much better properties. The quality will convince you!”

Vegetables from organic breeding

A short film gives an atmospheric impression of the “Meeting Point Organic Breeding “:

Photos: Photo 6 by J. Cammerer, rest by bioverita
Film: Leonard Osterhaus