The messages we consistently hear from our industry about the domestic market include the following.
- 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”
- there are generally 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 — producers overwhelming care that the audit process promotes integrity in organic products
- some auditors are viewed as inexperienced and unqualified to conduct audits
- there is concern about fraudulent operators who flaunt obligations to comply with standards
- there is a need for a charter or service standard
Research & development levies
- there is clear recognition that the Government collects levies on a commodity basis which then is provided to commodity-focussed industry development organisations, and that the producer levies are then supplemented with matching Government contributions
- most producers think that they do not receive value for money from these industry development organisations (but there are some exceptions)
- there is generally a strong desire for organics to have its own industry development organisation
- organics is haunted by historic disagreements, divergent mindsets and conflicting agendas
- there is a need for a clean break with this past
- there is frustration about the value received for levies currently paid
- there is no desire for additional fees to fund better industry governance
- identifying viable ways to fund the necessary governance activities and services is critical
- the transition costs to organic production are significant, and there is no premium in the price received during the long period of conversion
- the premium received for organic products after conversion is often not sufficient to compensate for the higher production costs and the conversion period
- consequently, organic production is often adopted for philosophical or lifestyle reasons, rather than for commercial reasons
- there is a role for Governments in addressing this significant barrier to entry
Organic Industry Advisory Group
In December 2020, the Australian Government established an Organic Industry Advisory Group to consider whether Australia’s current domestic organic regulatory system is fit for purpose to facilitate industry development. The Government notice and list of members is available here.
Our Chair, Dalene Wray, has been representing the interests of all certified organic operators on this advisory group. The group was expected to have finalised its report to the Department in March, but that timeframe has been extended. Its not expected that the report will be publicly released.
Organic Industry Forum
Formerly the Australian Organic Industry Working Group (AOIWG)
OIA is preparing a workshop for the the Organic Industry Forum to consider the issues arising out of the work of the Organic Industry Advisory Group. We can't discuss the specific outcomes in the report, but we can discuss the issues and the next steps our industry should take. Workshop details will be provided once arrangements are settled.
In the meantime, send an email to email@example.com to be added to the Organic Industry Forum distribution list or to update your email.
OISCC and the need for its reform
OIA Ltd has recently written to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC) to raise concerns that reforms to its systems and processes are required to address potential conflicts of interest, to improve transparency, and to increase stakeholder engagement in order to best serve Australia’s organic Industry.
We first raised these issues with OISCC in 2019, and our Board is most concerned to see these issues addressed by OISCC.
OISCC is an Association of Australia's organic certification companies, Australian Organic Limited (though this is not listed on the OISCC website), the Organic Federation of Australia (no longer operating), the Australian National Retailers Association, and the National Farmers Federation.
Two of the certification companies have recently cancelled their membership of OISCC.
Our concerns about OISCC and its processes include:
- the membership of OISCC doesn't adequately represent the broader organic industry
- there are significant transparency issues and apparent conflicts of interest
- there appears to be no documented process for conflict resolution
You can view a copy of our letter here.