Australia’s Status as World Leader in Organic to be Irreversibly Undermined
16 September 2019
Changes to Australia’s Gene Technology Regulations tabled (link is external)in the Federal Parliament threaten to irreversibly undermine Australia’s status as a world leader in organic. The decision would leave the majority(link is external)of new genetic modification (GM) techniques such as CRISPR/Cas unregulated.
Deregulation would allow any crops or living organisms engineered using these new GM techniques such as wheat, ryegrass, sugar, potatoes, rice, soybeans, maize, and mushrooms to be freely released into the environment with no safety assessment or traceability.
Deregulation opens the door for genetic experimentation, not only in plants but also in animals and microbes. The changes to the Gene Technology Regulations would make Australia one of the first countries in the world to deregulate the use of these techniques in livestock.
“The risks related to the new GM techniques have been downplayed by the industry but recognized as substantial in scientific reports (link is external”, says Dr Heli Matilainen of Helix Organics, part of IFOAM’s Expert Working Group on New Breeding Techniques. Organic farming is a huge success story in Australia. It is the fastest growing agricultural sector in Australia - growing at 16 per cent per year. A recent study (link is external) shows that Australia accounts for 51 per cent of the world’s certified organic hectares.”
“The deregulation of these new genetic engineering techniques seriously threatens this important agricultural sector. Deregulation would make it almost impossible for organic farmers and conventional GMO free farmers to exclude the presence of GMOs in their production process and to live up to the expectations of consumers. This would have severe economic consequences for Australian agriculture. Key export markets (link is external), including the EU and China, and global non-GM certifiers (link is external) regard the new genetic engineering techniques as GM and have zero tolerance (link is external) for the presence of unapproved GMOs in their imports. It will be extremely difficult to sell into these markets if the Australian government deregulates these techniques, since there will be no requirement to ensure traceability. When unapproved GMOs have been released historically, Europe and China have simply closed their borders to imports (link is external) – costing farmers billions in lost income.” – Dr Matilainen concludes.
As Gábor Figeczky, Head of Global Policy at IFOAM – Organics International, points out, “IFOAM – Organics International has adopted a global position (link is external) which reaffirms that GMOs created through new genetic engineering techniques have no place in organic food and farming systems.”
Australian Greens Senator Janet Rice has introduced a motion (link is external) to disallow the proposed changes due to be voted on in the Senate on 17th September. IFOAM - Organics International is calling on Federal Senators to support the disallowance motion to ensure that new genetic engineering techniques remain regulated.
“It is time for the Australian Government to protect the environment and consumers by confirming that plants, animals and microbes genetically modified with new technologies will be regulated like existing GMOs, and subject to rigorous risk assessment, traceability and labelling.” – said Ms. Rice.
The organic food and farming movement reiterates that it is crucial to ensure that risk assessment, traceability and labelling apply to all GMOs and all genetic engineering techniques in order to ensure that the environment and consumers are protected from the potential risks of these powerful new technologies.
Letter to Parliamentarians on gene editing methods
The following letter has been sent to key ALP shadow ministers and Senators in advance of a vote on disallowing the Government's deregulation of gene editing methods.
8 September 2019
Our organic industry is deeply concerned that the Australian Government’s gene technology deregulation will compromise certified organic exports to the European Union and China, and will erode consumer confidence in Australian food producers and manufacturers.
These trading partners do not tolerate any risk of contamination from genetically modified (GM) products in their organic imports.
The Gene Technology Act 2000 currently requires all scientific and commercial activities using genetic modification processes and living products to be notified to the Office of Gene Technology Regulator for assessment and licensing. But the Government’s Gene Technology Amendment Regulations 2019 will exclude a class of methods known as SDN1 from any notification or scrutiny at all. The regulations will become law on 8th October 2019, unless the Senate disallows them, and Australia will become one of the first countries in the world to deregulate the use of these new genetic modification techniques.
Senator Rice has given notice for a disallowance motion for these regulations. The Australian organic industry is imploring your support of this motion, to protect the integrity of the organic industry, remove this risk to our export markets and to enshrine in law a consumer’s ‘right to know’.
Under the new regulations, nearly three decades of work by thousands of farmers is under threat because many GM products (as defined by our export markets) will no longer be registered, regulated or labelled in Australia, hampering traceability and making organic status almost impossible to verify in Australia.
Australian organic exports rely on our produce meeting the organic standards as set by the importing countries. In China, Europe and other markets, SDN1 and CRISPR–CAS9 technology does not comply with those standards. With the Government’s deregulation, Australian organic product may no longer be certified as organic in those and other premium export markets.
As shown in our recent Export Strategy, the organic industry continues to be a shining light of export market growth in Australia, and our industry is keen for this growth to continue.
We consider that the Government has not adequately considered the trade implications for organic products. How will our Government respond, should Australian exporters be caught selling compromised product, through no fault of their own? Will such an incident cause us to lose market access for conventional beef and other traded commodities, simply by association? Some of our most important export markets could be closed to Australian organic exporters but ominously, to conventional exporters as well.
In addition, we consider that Australian consumers have a ‘right to know’ and should have the ability to make an informed choice, about whether to consume genetically modified organisms. Have you ever stopped and looked at a product that makes a claim to being Australian made, and then wondered if it could contain ingredients which have been genetically modified? We don’t believe that GM products should be allowed to be hidden in plain sight.
The organic industry is perplexed by the lack of public discourse. We, as both organic industry participants and every-day consumers, have not been consulted on these regulatory changes, which will most certainly affect us. We are calling on the Government to be genuinely transparent with the public on the Gene Technology Amendment Regulations 2019. To date, only organisations which support the proposed amendments to the Act have been published. Does this mean that no objections have been raised?
The suggestion that we deregulate SDN1 and CRISPR–CAS9 technology, and remove any requirement to register or transparently label products as produced using these methods, is in marked contrast to the work by Government using Australian Consumer Law (ACL) to ensure consumers are afforded MORE transparency, not less. Part 5-3 of the ACL sets out the regime in determining whether a good or product which claims to be Australian, can make such an assertion, or whether the claims are actually false, misleading or deceptive.
We encourage you to consider:
a Senate inquiry into the impacts of the deregulation, including detailed analysis of the trade implications and into the creation of a compensation fund for loss of export income;
a comprehensive risk assessment and cost benefit-analysis of the deregulation;
proper consideration given to the implications for Australian consumers of deregulation, with opinion given to the impact on Australian Consumer Law;
no deregulation of new GMOs until they are accepted by all premium agricultural export markets; and
keeping and strengthening the Gene Technology Act 2000, the cornerstone of Australia's evidence-based regulatory system for GM animals, plants and microbes.
Acting Chair, Organic Industries of Australia Ltd
OIA Ltd (website) is the interim peak body representing all Australian organic operators, regardless of which certifier provides their organic certification. Our members include some of Australia’s largest organic certifiers, producers and exporters, including Bellamy’s Organic, NASAA Organic, OBE Organic, Hancock Agriculture, Paris Creek Farms, Rural Organics, Queen, Norco Foods, Rosnay Organics, Australian Organic Meats, Primal Foods Group, and Pure Harvest.
OIA Ltd was founded after the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources led a process of preliminary discussions with the organic industry over the period of September – December 2016. This tested the waters on the interest of the industry in working together to increase the competitiveness of the Australian organics sector.
During 2017 and 2018, the Australian Organic Industry Working Group (AOIWG) was formed and developed a roadmap to improve the representation of Australia's organic industry. The AOIWG consisted of industry leaders from across Australia collaborating on establishing a harmonised national voice for all organic producers, certifiers and the supply chain.
In an expression of unity at the Love Organic symposium (14&15 February 2018 in Canberra), Australia’s organic industries agreed to establish a new peak body that is the voice for Australia’s organic industries in regard to policy and market access and OIA Ltd was born.
Letter to Parliamentarians on gene editing methods
The following letter has been sent to the Health Minister and key parliamentarians in respect of the Government's deregulation of gene editing methods.
8 August 2019
Organic Industries of Australia Limited, as the Interim Peak Body of the Australian Organic Industry, has grave concerns over the government's plan to deregulate gene editing methods in Australia from 8 October.
Under the new definitions of GMOs nearly three decades of work by thousands of farmers is under threat because many GMOs (as defined by our export markets) will no longer be registered, regulated or labelled in Australia, hampering traceability and making organic status almost impossible to verify in Australia.
Australian organic exports rely on produce meeting the organic standards as set by importing countries. In China, Europe and other markets, SDN1 and CRISPR – CAS9 technology does not comply with those standards. Under this move, Australian organic product could no longer be certified as organic on those and other premium export markets.
To comprehend the impact of the proposed changes on the organic industry, consider:
The global organic market is worth US$97 billion in 2017.
The Australian organic industry is worth A$2.6 billion. *
Of that value, 26% is export, and the premium for organic products is at least 20%.
Therefore the “worst case” current cost to Australia of loss of premium organic markets is as much as A$520 million in premiums alone.
There is no compensation plan for this loss.
However, the longer term opportunity cost is potentially higher, with the organic industry still growing at a rate of 45% per annum. Also needing to be measured are the undue financial and compliance costs that will be imposed on the Australian organic industry in order to avoid complete export market collapse; costs that our competitors will not have to worry about.
Parliament has until 12 September 2019 to disallow the regulatory amendments. We implore you to support the call for:
a Senate inquiry into the impacts of the Gene Technology Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Regulations 2019, including detailed analysis along the lines above and into the creation of a compensation fund for loss of export income;
no deregulation of new GMOs until they are accepted by all premium agricultural export markets;
keeping and strengthening the Gene Technology Act 2000, the cornerstone of Australia's evidence-based regulatory system for GM animals, plants and microbes.
Chair, Organic Industries Australia
Footnote: Australian Organic Market Report 2019—Australian Organic Ltd
Market Visit—Hong Kong and Singapore
Organic Supermarket Visits, In-Market and On-Shelf
Australia’s reputation on the global stage is solid. Clean, green manufacturing and stringent organic certifications have ensured that we live up to our reputation as a land of beauty rich and rare. No small part of this owes to our geographic isolation – and this is both our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity.
Australian businesses are commonly unaware of the demand for their products, how to get those products into the right hands and on the most lucrative shelves. Combined with cultural nuances that sometimes seem hazy at best; as a nation, too many opportunities are passing us by.
There are many ways to tackle this problem, but the most direct by far is to go to market yourself. This offers a number of advantages – from the chance to form timely and accurate insights, to the ability to build long term productive partnerships. Of course, it’s much harder (and the progress potentially much slower) if you go it alone.
Seeing this need – and this opportunity – Export Connect and Organic Industries of Australia set out to deliver an intensive Organic Market Visit Program for six brave Australian organic companies to travel to Singapore and Hong Kong together. The program, which concludes on 10 September with an insights forum, combines market research; competitor analysis; supermarket visits in August 2018; and meetings with buyers from retail, distribution and eCommerce channels.
Supermarket visits provide an opportunity to gauge marketplace trends for yourself. In this way, you can better understand the types of products currently on shelf, packaging, merchandising; and thus the opportunities in each market. We chose to target high-end supermarket stores as well as smaller neighbourhood shops and boutique stores that specialise in healthy and organic products. In this way, our clients would be able to form a comprehensive overview of the various stores, prices and people in each market.
In addition to supermarket visits, we outlined products of interest which were already on-shelf and online in each market for our team, from price on-shelf to product claims. This in-depth analysis aided our clients in creating an export price list and pitch to present to buyers during their curated in-market meetings.
Our first full day in both Singapore and Hong Kong was packed with supermarket visits to ensure that our team would have a good understanding of the market and their competitors before their appointments with buyers. We want our team to be as prepared as possible to answer any questions buyers may have. These questions might range from their product’s suitability in the market, to its ability to be promoted in the market.
In each city, we visited 8-10 supermarkets. Singapore saw visits to Fairprice and Fairprice Finest, Supernature, Brown Rice Paradise, Marketplace by Jasons, Little Farms, Cold Storage and Four Seasons Organic Market. Some of our clients already had their products in stores, which was a real treat for them – some for the first time – to be able to see their products on shelf in an overseas market! In Hong Kong we visited Marketplace by Jasons, Wellcome, Park N Shop, Taste, ThreeSixty, CitySuper, Oliver’s, GREAT Food Hall, Just Green Organic Convenience Store and The Store.
Only on-the-ground research, inherently up-to-date, can provide the most nuanced and relevant insights. We noted, in particular, certain differences between supermarkets in both markets.
Singaporean supermarkets and stores showed a strong organic/health food focus with many stores offering an organic-only section in their store. A majority of the smaller stores stocked more organic produce and functional foods than conventional produce. In Hong Kong, however, we noticed that there was not as much of a focus on organic food. While some supermarkets did stock organic produce and had dedicated organic sections, these sections weren’t as extensive as those in Singaporean supermarkets. Interestingly, some health and organic food specific stores were much smaller in scale and focussed primarily on online e-commerce websites for traffic. These stores were usually located in areas with a large population of expats and were stocked with international brands of health food, snacks and supplements.
The future of Australian organic food manufacturing is bright. With golden soil and wealth for toil, the only thing between us and our opportunities is an aeroplane, an itinerary … and a strapping tour guide, to advance Australia fair.
To celebrate Organic Awareness Month, we will be providing more market insights from this trip – keep an eye out! And remember to book into our Organic Food Exporters Forum in Melbourne on 10 September. For those wanting insights beyond the organic space, Singapore and Hong Kong; we are also running a Food & Beverage Exporters Forum on the same day, looking at markets such as North America, China, and the Middle East; covering categories such as cereals, snacks, biscuits, beverages and baby food (to name a few).
Organic Industries A voice for Australia's organic industries
Communique — Thursday 15 February 2018
An organic industry roadmap
Industry unites to establish a new peak body
Today, in an expression of unity at the Love Organic symposium in Canberra, Australia’s organic industries agreed to establish a new peak body that is the voice for Australia’s organic industries in regard to policy and market access.
Organic Industries of Australia is an incorporated association that will now perform the functions of the Australia Organic Industry Working Group (AOIWG) as a forum for consulting with Government on policy matters.
The new peak body will also work with all organic leaders to consider various options for the establishment of a permanent peak body. These options include merging functions with Australian Organic Ltd, merging with the Organic Federation of Australia, and considering other actions to demonstrate unity of purpose across all certified organic operators.
The independent chair of the AOIWG, and the President of the Organic Industries of Australia, is Greg McNamara. He said ‘as a rapidly growing and diverse industry, spanning food and cosmetic production, manufacturing and distribution, one common vision has emerged: “To create a unified voice for Australia’s organic industries to negotiate policy reforms with Governments and that helps the industry capitalise on the growing global demand for organic products”’.
This vision was endorsed by all industry delegates.
Last night, Parliamentarians enjoyed a delicious BBQ and beverages at a Love Organic event hosted by the Parliamentary Friends of Primary Industries. The Prime Minister, the Hon Malcom Turnbull MP, addressed the gathering and acknowledged the importance to the Australian economy of the organic sector and the growth in organic production and exports.
The industry welcomed the opportunity to celebrate its world class organic produce and its unified purpose to represent all certified organic operators. There will be an opportunity over coming months for all organic operators to have their say on the work of the peak body.
Chair, Organic Industries of Australia
Chair, Australian Organic Industry Working Group
0429 986 547 firstname.lastname@example.org
140 industry delegates attended the Love Organic symposium in Canberra on 14 & 15 February. The symposium considered issues around establishing a unified peak body.
The Australian Organic Industry Working Group was a collaboration of industry leaders from across Australia collaborating on establishing a harmonised national voice for all organic producers, certifiers and the supply chain.
AOIWG is replaced by Organic Industries of Australia, an association incorporated in NSW.
The AOIWG considered a consultants’ report on this matter, A proposed roadmap for Australia’s organic industry: Considering options for the leadership of the industry, which was publicly released on 13 November 2017. It is available at https://www.organicindustries.com.au/ConsultationPaper