Our survey of organic operators demonstrated that there is overwhelming support (91%) for the regulation of the term 'organic'. Respondents indicated a preference for this to be implemented through a separately legislated scheme and administered by a new regulator.
In Australia, the term ‘organic’ is not regulated as it is in the United States, Japan and China. It is legal to produce a product and call it ‘organic’ without providing the consumer with any proof that it is actually organic.
In fact, Australia is the only advanced country that doesn’t regulate use of the term ‘organic’ or is well-progressed in implementing such regulation. 85% of respondents indicated that the lack of domestic regulation had an impact on their business.
Organic Industries of Australia Ltd has been consistently lobbying the Government on the lack of domestic regulation, and will continue to participate in the Minister’s Organic Industry Advisory Group. Our website has our media release on these consultations.
Your responses to this survey will help us continue to represent you.
How much do you agree with the following statements?
We also asked respondents how much they trust the organisations representing the interests of Australia's organic sector.
OIA and NASAA rated highest with an average score of 3.5 out of 5.0, Australian Organic scored 2.9 and the National Farmers Federation scored only 1.4.
Respondents also provided a range of thoughtful comments about aspects of domestic regulation. For example:
- Global comparison
- We need to speed up the rate of change. Organic in Australia is years behind everywhere else worldwide. Do what ever is necessary to get rid of greenwashing and strengthen our organic status.
- Coverage of domestic regulation
- It is just too hard competing with products labelled organic when they are not. Anyone can use the word organic with or without good intention. It is used flippantly as a word of trend.
- The word 'organic' does not have to be regulated as only 'certified organic' - it can also be determined that all produce called organic (non-certified/pgs etc) must provide evidence that it has followed organic standards. Another option is that produce that is certified organic is 100% must be audited and traceable.
- Currently, both production and processing stages need to be certified. He asks whether the regulation would potentially remove the processing stage from certification requirement, or does the term 'all stages of production' also include 'processing' in this question? Processing would include abattoirs, bakeries and mills. Well, we will be strongly arguing for stronger regulation across all stages of the production process, including inputs and processing.
- He is a beef producer who no longer has access to a certified organic abattoir. He now sells beef as 'organically grown'. The production process is completely compliant and certified, however, he no longer sells meat as certified organic due to the break in certification in the supply chain. This is an excellent point, and we are aware of beef producers, and many other sectors too, that are disadvantaged by a lack of scale and rate of return in organic processing. If we can grow the organic industry more, many of these issues will disappear. In the meantime, we need to consider better industry and government support for these areas of market failure.
- Conditions are being eroded and she is sceptical at the accuracy of packaging.
- He objects to usurping the term 'organic' to allow it to be used in the narrow sense of 'certified organic' to the level of one of the certifying bodies. The term needs to be differentiated when used to denote 'certified organic' - perhaps organic(C) or Organic. He supports the regulation of claims that foodstuffs are produced as 'organic' as a trade description, as it is quite misleading to say something has been organically produced when it has in fact been produced with complex synthetic pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilisers.
- He is worried about non-organic food being sold as organic. He tells us that there have been many cases of fraud including Mexican garlic sold as Australian in supermarkets, and that the only way to stop these practices is to legislate with jail terms applicable - it is straight out fraud on a worldwide scale, and he hopes one day it will change.
- FSANZ is considering allowing genetically modified products regulated by their manufacturer into Australia. Why would one of your survey questions be whether or not they could regulate organic products? Is that some kind of joke? Unfortunately, no it is not a joke (and we are totally with you on GMOs) - one of the options being considered by Government is whether FSANZ should set the domestic organic standards.
- Low cost certification
- Concerned that stronger regulation will drive a lot of good committed small operators out of the industry and onto the black market. She believes a system like NOP has, that fosters new operators with grants will eventually build our industry and provide more excess produce for export, is a better way forward.
- Noted that USNOP standard (205.101), provides exemptions and exclusions, from certification. This is an important component to include in any update to the AU standards. A production or retail operation that sells agricultural products as 'organic' but whose gross agricultural income is $5K or less annually, is exempt from certification BUT needs to comply with the applicable organic production, handling, record keeping and labelling requirements of the standard. The products can not be sold for further on-processing at another handling operation. This then allows for small producers (grower's markets or seasonal boxes) and small businesses, who wish to grow organically or use organic ingredients, to sell directly to customers, can carry on their business without the additional cost of certification.
- Fees are becoming out of reach for small producers. In some cases the fees are larger than the income generated. It's killing me in particular.
- Wouldn't like to see new so called certification parties based on low cost relaxing the inspections letting in the charlatans take over & ruining the cert system. He thinks most people who buy organic would look for a certification label - there maybe products in farmers markets claiming to be organic without certification, but he doesn't think the mainstream products in the larger organic food chain with certification are a problem.
- The domestic tightening of the proprietary use of the word 'organic' under a certification scheme needs to accommodate small end producers with appropriate cost structure and transitional pathway to full certified organic status.
- By all means chase down the large companies that are "Greenwashing", but if you want to fix things for small producers lower the fees dramatically and introduce peer to peer auditing.
- Certified organic growers already pay too much in certification fees and levies. Any changes made should not be to the cost of current certified growers, governments must not put any further financial onus on growers.
- Current audits are driving people out of being organic producers.
- The cost of certification should be based on the cost to certify - without the additional "tax" based on volume or sales. Large and well supported business that comply with the requirements of the organic movement should not be penalized for being popular to consumers.
- Small businesses should be supported financially to comply with funded government support - the future competitive point of difference for Australia will be as a producer and exporter of truly organic goods - the first countries to move in this direction will be the most successful over the next few decades.
- These are great suggestions. We are interested in exploring low cost and flexible arrangements to make sure regulation does not create problems for small producers. The US National Organic Program is one route that needs to be considered. Another option is the adoption of Participatory Guarantee Schemes which provide for certification by community / peer groups.
- Certification processes
- The current systems is paper heavy and run by pen pushers that do not necessarily know or understand what clean green food production is about. It is fine to have a whole lot of boxes to tick but that does not transfer necessarily to understanding soil and plant health which is directly affecting the quality of the food we produce. In some instances it appears that the dollar is more relevant than the quality of the food produced.
- Organic standards and industry governance
- The AS6000 should be taken up in federal government legislation as both the domestic and export standard, that the MP100 is updated by SA-FTE032 committee to include provision for all imported organics are compliant to it, and that a SDO is formulated under the auspices of SA which would provide higher level of governance, would allow the industry to own and manage its standard, be recognised by govt as standards setting authority.
- OIA Ltd should be the designated peak industry body, that the government invest more money into the organic industry commensurate to its worth 2.5 billion and the other co-benefits it brings re climate change mitigation and adaption, functional biodiversity benefits, health outcomes, less downside externalities than the current agricultural paradigm and more social capital outcomes.
- Current organic standards permit the addition of FSANZ regulated additives and flavour enhancers as ingredients, misleading consumers as these products are not in fact organic but contain additives of concern. Unless this issue is addressed we cannot recommend organic as being any better than non-organic to the 17,500 members of the Food Intolerance Network.
- Worried that the current certifying entities will use the likely position to strengthen there influence over the industry, and in no way does he want to see the 'Bud Logo' as the national symbol for certified organic. He would prefer exploration of the AS6000 or another reviewed standard that takes in a 21st Century approach, greater clarity re dealing with matters of innocent bystander environmental contamination, and installing greater sustainability values within the standard.
Thanks to everyone for their responses and for their thoughtful comments. They help us to refine the messages that we give to Government on your behalf.
We have also had many operators express interest in becoming a member of OIA. More information on memberships is on this link.