Policy forum

If a peak body for Australia's organic industries is established, what policies should it prioritise—domestic and international certification issues, lobbying national and state governments on behalf of members, consumer awareness, producer education, research and development, market access?

I'd like to start by congratulating the Organic Working Group for getting this process going and Policy partners for setting up this framework for some discussion alongside the various workshops and consultations coming up.

In terms of policy, I think the key here is to try to get the industry together on a single platform with a harmonious voice, bearing in mind that this is difficult because unlike many other agricultural "sectors", organics is a very diverse industry which actually crosses over so many sectors of agriculture and whole whole supply chain.

At the core of this "overlay" is the Standard which defines what is Organic, because its the one thing that ties us all together. The key role for a Peak Body could be to stand loud and proud behind our Standard for organic agriculture in Australia, including:

  • communicating why it is the way it is, to consumers, media, researchers, extension officers and producers alike, existing and prospective, so that they can buy in with confidence;
  • communicating how the Standard evolves over time through transparent and well defined processes, without interference from "big ag" and "big retail" seeking to dilute it for profit, and inviting people to participate in its ongoing improvement;
  • communicating why our Standard should be recognised as "equivalent" to those in our key export markets so that market access is improved and producers dont have to have multiple certifications and accreditations and associated costs; 
  • communicating why our Standard should be seen as a Public Good (for its clear health and environmental benefits), as well as a form of industry self regulation, and therefore deserve government support above and beyond what is generally given to other agricultural sectors, both in R&D and in providing robust accreditation of Certifiers rather than relying on private or semi-corporatised providers.

A focus on the Standard, which at present is the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce, brings together the disparate sectors that have made it so hard for Organics as an industry to have an harmonious voice in the past. The Standard is the one solid thing that can easily be incorporated into government policy and programs such as Agriculture Department extension programs, education curriculums, R&D Corporation funding guidelines, even State and Local government planning instruments.

So basically the policy focus could be reduced to communicating the benefits of our organic Standard through partnership with all levels of government and those of our trade partners, so that the industry can grow sustainably and unhindered by fraud and scandal, united behind a well funded and responsive Peak Body.

Beyond that, I think some key areas where the Peak Body may have to work hardest at first would be:

  • to decide on a single Standard or no (to keep the existing partnership of OISCC with the federal Department of Ag with the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce, or to divest the Standard to Standards Australia*),
  • to lobby for the Standard to be both an Export and an Import standard so that producers have a level playing field, and consumers are somewhat protected (if we resign to believe that legislated protection of the word Organic on domestic label claims may never be achieved, despite being the status quo in most developed countries).
  • to lobby, with Government partnership, for Equivalence in our export markets (eg, Korea, US etc).

[*I should declare that as the current chairman of the National Standards Sub Committee I do have a bias towards the former option, but in either case this debate must be put to bed]

I agree completely with all Sam Statham has said about the Standard being the core to defining what is Organic, but i think we need to take this one step further to regulate the use of the term "Organic" as defined in the Standard. Consumer awareness and protection over the use of the term Organic is key to the protection of the Organic industry in the future, providing the consumer with the confidence that what they are buying is Organic. Too many producers are calling their products Organic, however are not certified by any singular body and riding the wave of a strong brand.

I always have been and remain a strong supporter of the concept of one standard. One standard reduces cost and complexity, avoids confusion and opportunity for compliance issues and more than one standard can only serve to open debate from export destinations and domestic customers about why we need more than one.

What a pity that the many years of work put into OFA (much of it voluntary) are now going to be wasted.


In reply to by Rob Underdown (not verified)

Rob, totally agree. When Australian products go overseas they have to be certified to enter the markets as Organic. The label claim of organic must be backed by certification. In Australia there are no controls, any product can be imported or made in Australia using non certified ingredients and be called organic. However to have legislation to protect the word we have to demonstrate "market failure" which is not easy and also be prepared for compromise to get it through eg allowing GMOs on organic farms etc. 

the use of australian certification logos on imported product will harm australias organic reputation. for example australian certified logos on hempseed product from china is misleading customers who would not place premium status on chinese hemp seed. consumers would prefer australian organic (even if not certified) than chinese product certified as organic in china. the australian certification logos should not be used on imported product to maintain integrity, and if they are, should have the origin clearly stated on logos and not hidden on packaging. the australian regulation of organic production is very strict and costly and premiums to make it viable can only be achieved if australian and organic are preserved as a premium safe product.

As a relative newcomer, it is hard to understand why Australia does not have a system of certification similar to the USDA certified organic standard. 

I'd like to see a single organic logo created in unison with a single standard.  The certifier and the processor/producer number can still be part of the logo, but a single visual cue for consumers would create much stronger branding for organic products.

I strongly support the suggestion that the standard applies to imports, and for government support in helping achieve export recognition of the australian organic standard.  

My only concern is that the standards are not compromised.  It was worrying to see a certifying body advocating for tolerance levels of GMO last year.  

Australian organics has to brand itself through sustainability pillars-economic, social and environmental and develop a set of sustainability healthy farm index indicators to set our organic produce apart from others (globally and locally) and enable farmers to work towards achieving sustainability, therefore raising the standard.

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