THE somewhat fragmented Australian organic food industry is making moves to harmonise its industry voice – a move seen by industry leaders as necessary to underpin continued strong growth.
Organics industry stakeholders from across Australia are collaborating with a view to establishing a national peak body for all organic producers, certifiers and the supply chain.
An Australian Organic Industry Working Group has been established to guide the project through its initial phases.
Chairing the working group is Greg McNamara, chairman of the board of directors of the Norco dairy cooperative in northern NSW. Mr McNamara is a dairy farmer with extensive experience across the agricultural sector, including dairy, beef, pigs, horticulture and genetics.
“We envisage this project could result in a new national representative body that will be the voice of organic industries,” he said. “While we are not yet sure of its final form, it will have broad representation and be active in promoting viable and sustainable industries at the national and state level.”
Mr McNamara said in order to make sure that the proposed representative body has broad support, the project aimed to have industry-wide input, through effective consultation and open communications.
“We’re seeking the involvement of people at all levels of the organic supply chain―from small boutique producers to major exporters and the organic certifiers,” he said.
The working group consists of leading organic producers and certifiers. These individuals and businesses have committed their time and financial resources to progressing the project to this point. The working group has also been actively engaging the Australian Government to seek its support for the project.
One of the objectives of the group is to secure a larger share of R&D funding support for projects specific to the organic sector – an area in which some participants, including Organic beef producers, feel they are missing out.
A project manager has been appointed by the working group to assist in the initial phases of considering options and processes for establishing a peak body for Australia’s organic industries.
The project team leader, Tony Webster from Policy Partners, said one objective of the project was to consider how the working group could evolve to become more representative of Australia’s diverse organic industries.
The project team is assisting the Australian Organic Industry Working Group to:
- broaden communications channels across Australia’s organic industries
- undertake initial consultations and identify the key issues facing the future
- prepare a discussion paper on the key issues to be considered
- provide advice on the next steps towards achieving a clear harmonised voice
One particular objective of this stage of the project is to consider how the working group could evolve to become more representative of Australia’s diverse organic industries.
Australia’s organic industries have expanded rapidly over the past decade and have significant potential for further growth. The latest Australian Organic Market Report suggests that Australia’s organic industries could exceed $2 billion in sales by 2018.
In terms of Australia’s organic food exports last year, beef was easily the top commodity by volume, at close to 20pc of all organic exports in 2016. Horticultural produce, dairy and wine all contributed around 5pc. That statistic for beef came despite a 14pc decline in beef exports over the previous year due to drought. Most other commodities showed volume growth, including sheep/lamb meat, dairy products and chicken all expanding rapidly.
The report, based on research by the Mobium Group and the University of New England, also found that the number of certified organic operations in Australia grew by 5pc last year, and the volume of all organic products exported from Australia grew by 17pc.
Click here to access more information on the organic industries project.
Concerns raised over Organic standards of food imports
In other organic food news, a group of US Senators last week raised concerns about non-organic food imports being passed fraudulently as organic in the US market, asking the US Department of Agriculture to update them on the agency’s plan to address the problem.
The Senators’ focus at this point is on imported corn and other grains, but their activity has opened up the broader issue of US standards for imported organic foods in general.
Three Democrat senators have asked USDA to answer a number of questions related to the existing US National Organic Program (NOP) equivalency arrangements and the way they facilitate timely reporting of “bad actors, including certifying agents, between USDA and relevant foreign agencies.”
The senators’ concerns and questions parallel the reaction of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in the US, which has been working to bring the issue into focus as legislators begin addressing the 2018 Farm Bill.
A report in the respected Washington Post newspaper in May followed three shipments of imported corn, soybeans and grain which started off in Turkey (one of the largest organic product exporters to the US) with conventional product labels, but which ended up being sold in the US as “organic.”
The substitution and mislabelling boosted the value of the shipments by an estimated US$4 million, creating a windfall for at least one entity along the supply chain, the investigation found.
The report has been widely circulated and has raised questions about USDA’s ability to monitor and verify whether food imports meet organic standards.
The US Organic Trade Association recently created a Global Organic Supply Chain Integrity Taskforce, charging it with developing a guide for best practices in managing and verifying global organic supply chain integrity to help mitigate the risk of organic fraud.
“The oversight of foreign organic suppliers and the enforcement of organic standards must be rigorous and robust,” the association said.
The OTA is calling for a one-off US$5 million funding to “upgrade international oversight systems and trade tracking to ensure access to full traceability back to the farm as well as robust investigations of imported fraud.”