Putting organic collection areas on the map and taking organic products to the world
Starting in the middle of June, forest owners can use the Finnish Forest Centre’s Metsään.fi service to register their forests as organic collection areas. The service, which is free for forest owners, aims to expand the amount of internationally significant organic collection area in Finland cost-effectively and to promote the commercial utilisation of the berries, mushrooms, sap and wild herbs in Finland’s forests.
“The digitalisation of organic collection areas in the Metsään.fi service improves the monitoring and traceability of Finnish organic collection products, which are often exported. When operating on the international food market, it is essential to be able to verify the origin of products,” says Tero Tolonen, Ministerial Adviser at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
Under the legislation on organic foodstuffs, a natural product can be sold as organic if it is collected from a forest that fulfils the organic certification criteria and is under the supervision of the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.
“The simplest way for a forest owner to register their forest as an organic collection area is to use the Metsään.fi service, which is free for forest owners. After submitting a notification through the service, an inspector authorised by the forest owner will check that the area is suitable for organic collection and add the forest to the supervision system,” says Veikko Iittainen, manager of forest ownership services at the Finnish Forest Centre.
The maps of the organic collection areas are made by the inspectors; the Finnish Forest Centre only has information on the properties registered as organic collection areas. In the Metsään.fi service, the organic production commitment is visible only to the forest owner and to operators that have access rights to the forest owner’s data, based on the consent of the forest owner, their customer relationship or their membership status.
In practice, Finnish forestry methods are well in line with the requirements of the legislation on organic production. More than 90 per cent of Finland’s forests are suitable for certification as organic collection areas, meaning that natural products collected there can be sold as organic. From the perspective of forest owners, it may not make a difference whether the products collected from their forests are sold as organic or not, but for companies that utilise and process berries, organic certification is very important. There is growing demand for Finnish organic products on the export market, and many food industry businesses need organic ingredients for their production.
The natural ingredients growing in Finland’s forests can be collected under the right of access to private land or with the owner’s permission, but only a fraction of these are currently being utilised. Opportunities for growth in the natural products industry depend on the availability of organic ingredients and forest owners’ interest in registering their forests as organic collection areas. Forest owners can also choose to have only a part of their forests certified for organic collection.
“Forestry and organic certification are not mutually exclusive. Forest owners can continue to utilise their organic-certified forests as they wish. When it comes to fertilisers and stump treatment products, we usually have options available that are suitable for organic collection areas,” says Niina Riissanen, Chief Specialist at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
If, for instance, felling is carried out in a certain portion of forest during the unfrozen season and the stumps are treated with urea, which is not permitted in organic collection areas, the forest owner can send a notification of this through the Metsään.fi service, meaning that this portion of forest will be removed from the organic area for a period of three years. A notification concerning one portion of an area does not affect the organic status of the rest of the area. The notification feature will be introduced in the Metsään.fi service in autumn 2019.
“Finland is home to the world’s cleanest air and groundwater, and expanding our organic collection areas can play an important role in strengthening Finland’s country brand and communicating about our pristine nature. The organic brand and production method are highly valued by consumers and represent a largely untapped opportunity to increase and broaden the utilisation of our forest nature,” says Riissanen.
Niina Riissanen, Senior Specialist, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, tel. +358 29 516 2339, niina.riissanen(at)mmm.fi
Tero Tolonen, Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, tel. +358 29 516 2326, tero.tolonen(at)mmm.fi
Veikko Iittainen, manager of forest ownership services, Finnish Forestry Centre, tel. +358 40 544 8030, veikko.iittainen(at)metsakeskus.fi
Pauliina Pelto-Piri, Lawyer, Finnish Food Authority, tel. +358 50 386 8408, pauliina.pelto-piri(at)ruokavirasto.fi