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Introduction and summary

This section summarises broad observations from the consultations conducted between June and early October 2017.

There is a confluence of events that provide opportunities for the industry to form a peak representative body with greater capacity for representation, advocacy and coordination. The project identified that what is required for the organic industry to achieve representation is:

  • new ways of approaching issues and opportunities
  • improved partnerships with governments based on leadership and engagement
  • a new generation of leadership that embraces new opportunities and approaches and jettisons historical baggage
  • increased policy leadership by producers, processors and traders, along with the certifiers

Capacity for a harmonised voice has been identified as needed to assist the industry by representing it to governments and consumers. It is argued that the industry is currently fragmented and needs coordination or harmonisation of its representation.

Many industries, sectors and professional associations have learnt the value of having a national organisation or peak body to represent their interests, lobby governments and communicating on behalf of their members. Examples include: The National Farmers Federation; The Australian Conservation Foundation; The Australian Council of Social Service; The Mining Industry Council; The Australian Medical Association; Engineers Australia.

The workshops—location and dates

Date Location Venue Key foci
9 June Canberra Dept of Agriculture and Water Resources Government agencies and members of the AOIWG
2&3 August Tweed Heads Services Club Members of the AOIWG—identification of major issues
25 August Narrandera BioAg Pty Ltd Consultation with certified growers and support industries in the NSW Riverina
30 August Toowoomba Toowoomba Showground Consultation with certified producers and others in southern Qld, in conjunction with Qld Beef Week
20 September Warragul Community College Gippsland Consultation with certified producers and support industries in Victoria—focus on horticulture and dairy
28 September Sydney Pasta Emelia Exporters, value add, retailers and producers
3 October Hahndorf The Haus Consultation with certified producers, certifiers and support industries in SA
5 October Margaret River Margaret River Community Centre Consultation with certified producers, certifiers and support industries in south-west WA
6 October Perth Harris Organic Wines Baskerville Consultation with certified producers, certifiers and support industries in the area surrounding Perth

Overview of themes

The Australian organic industry has grown steadily over the past three decades and has potential for further growth and value creation in the premium markets in which they operate. Specific types of representation are needed to ensure that industry development and business promotion needs are met in both the domestic and export markets.

As stated above, the consultations identified that there is widespread support for a new or revitalised peak body from growers, processors, wholesalers, exporters, retailers and certifiers. The idea was supported in principle because informants wanted to see more effective coordination, cooperation, advocacy and industry promotion including in export markets. There was also almost unanimous support for ways to ensure that the compulsory levies for R&D are targeted to industry needs via a greater focus on influencing the work of the RDC's.

Some common themes emerged.

  • Industry regulatory arrangements are complicated and not well understood
  • Overwhelmingly, most producers are concerned that domestic regulation is insufficient
    • Overseas many key markets protect “organic” under consumer laws
    • Australian consumer law treats “organic” as a generic term
    • More could be even be done by Govt/Industry to protect “certified organic”
  • Some concerns were expressed that there are low levels of satisfaction with certification processes
    • This extends beyond normal mismatches of expectations of services and fees paid
    • Audits are viewed as an overly bureaucratic form ticking exercise
    • Auditors are viewed as inexperienced and unqualified to conduct audits
    • Concern about fraudulent operators who flaunt obligations to comply with standards
    • Need for charter or service standard
  • Organics is haunted by historic disagreements, divergent mindsets and conflicting agendas—the need for forming a clean break with this past was often expressed
  • No desire for increase charges to fund new body

Value creation and functions

Consultations at the workshops focused on value creation and identification of preferred functions.

These were the first major issues outlined in the issues paper which articulated the rationale for this focus as:


Value is generated to members through providing services and functions. Many of the benefits from these services and functions will also flow to stakeholders—the potential members and supporters.

Both financial contributions and goodwill can disappear rapidly unless the peak body continually delivers more in services and functions than its running costs—the organisational objective should be to maximise the net value created.

Net value can be created through the efficient provision of standard services; but long lasting value creation normally requires results‑oriented actions and achievements around issues of key importance to members and stakeholders.

Having a clear value creation story is centrally important to determining the functions and services, scope and charter of the new peak body. By clarifying the options, the possible form and governance of the new body will also become clearer.

One critical question posed throughout the consultations was the extent to which a peak body should have a narrow or broad mandate. On the whole support was expressed for a body that focuses on supporting the certified organic component of the market, but that issues like health, environment and resilient communities could be attended to via partnerships and alliances.

Informants were also explicitly asked about what they saw as the preferred functions and services, with a question in the issues paper framed as:


What functions and services could it deliver?

a. Whole of industry vision and priority-setting

b. Policy development and position statements

c. Advocacy

d. R&D strategy and engagement with RDCs and researchers

e. Industry support

f. Compliance

g. Education and training

h. Marketing and market access

There was general support for a, b, c, d, e and h with debate about proposed compliance and education functions with a view frequently expressed that aspirations for these are best achieved via influencing other parties with direct responsibilities and/or via alliances with providers (as in education and training providers).

R&D strategy

With respect to research and development there was a strong consensus on the need to influence and direct R&D strategy and policy but not to engage directly with research expect where this was for the purposes of advancing industry wide strategies.

On marketing, there was a common view that broad market access, market information and market development would all be within scope but that individual businesses are best placed to develop their own marketing facing strategies. Again, working via other entities like Austrade was proposed as the preferred modus operadi.

Market access

The consultations identified support for a peak body to be active in improving market access in export markets and in seeking additional support from Government for export market development. Activities suggested range from supporting an export desk through to negotiating equivalency agreements. The issues paper explains that:


From 2012, the European Union and United States implemented an organic equivalence arrangement, whereby their respective countries’ certified organic products can be represented as such across the Atlantic. Among its aims are the reduced administrative burdens and new possibilities for trade on both sides. Previously, operations that wanted to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications to both standards, which meant a second set of fees, inspections, and paperwork. The European Union has also recognised eleven other third countries (including Australia) as having equivalent organic production rules and control systems.

Australian certifiers also have some reciprocal arrangements in place with certifiers in other countries, whereby the domestic certifier can offer certification to organic standards in the export country—for example, see Australian Certified Organic.

Beyond market access, it is industry’s responsibility to convert opportunities into business outcomes—including by marketing its own products. Industry branding has the potential to build on the strong reputation among overseas buyers of Australian agricultural commodities, and consumers of products such as Australian wine, red meat and dairy products. This would help link perceptions of Australian food to the unique strengths of Australia’s agricultural production and biosecurity systems, and clean environment.

Financial sustainability (membership base and finances)

A key concern expressed was that growers and processes fee would be increased to fund a new peak body. There is no desire for additional fees. Identifying viable ways to fund the activities and services is critical. One possible approach would be levying licence fees for use of the national marque.

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