The issue of products falsely claiming to be ‘organic’ on packaging will be the key focus of this year’s Australian Organic Awareness Month (AOAM). Each September the annual event shines a spotlight on achievements and issues within the organic industry which this year has performed strongly despite the challenges of COVID-19.
Australian Organic Limited, the nation’s peak industry body for organics, has urged consumers to always look for an official Bud certification logo which ensures a product has gone through stringent testing.
Currently in Australia the word ‘organic’ is not defined. For the past 18 months AOL has been working with Government and industry to progress the discussion for clarification and mandatory regulation aligned to Australian export requirements, which will significantly benefit agricultural producers.
The government is now considering a number of regulatory pathways to achieve a common sense approach and align Australia with international standards.
“At the moment being certified organic within Australia is a voluntary process, however any producer or manufacturer can claim a product is organic on its packaging with as little as one ingredient being from organic origins,” said AOL CEO Niki Ford.
“Enforcing domestic regulation around this word will give producers, manufacturers and consumers much greater clarity that a product has been rigorously audited against a high-quality standard.”
Paul da Silva of Toowoomba-based Arcadian Organic & Natural Meat Co., Australia’s most successful global supplier of certified organic meat, said lack of mandatory domestic regulation has organic export businesses playing at a perpetual disadvantage, particularly with this year’s challenges.
“Each export market requires proof an Australian organic product meets their own country’s organic standard. This is a fundamental requirement for market access,” he said. “However, lack of regulation means we often can’t have equivalence with standards in other markets.
“This forces us and other exporters to go through the full process of getting certification in each separate export market. As we export to nine different countries this can cost thousands of dollars and countless hours per country.
“It often requires auditors from each of those countries to be brought over to Australia to audit our producers and processing facilities – a process that is not possible due to current travel restrictions. If obtaining the particular certification isn’t possible for any reason, such as taking too long or being too expensive, then the business is lost – there are major opportunities just going down the drain.
“The demand for organic is still very strong – even during the uncertainties of 2020. This is a big export opportunity for Australia being hampered by red tape.”
Other organic producers such as poultry farmer Sonya Dowling from Enviroganic Farm in Murringo, who are one of the main suppliers of organic poultry to Woolworths, agree demand has not waned.
“Around 90 per cent of our meat goes to Woolworths for their Macro range and there is definitely an opportunity to increase our volume because demand is so strong,” she said. “Drought, bushfires, floods, COVID-19 – none of it has actually affected our sales. If anything, recent events have boosted our sales.”
Quentin Kennedy, managing director of Kialla Pure Foods in Greenmount, Queensland, which produces certified organic grains and flours said this year had delivered their strongest ever results.
“This year people are cooking more at home and have fallen in love with baking again. As a result, we’ve had five of the best months on record, with strong sales of wheat baking flours. We’ve also seen a lift in other products such as polenta as people try out interesting ingredients.
“Drought-wise this is the third bad year in a row for crops, but fortunately we were able to buy smaller parcels of grain in May which meant we had sufficient stock to service demand.”
This year’s AOAM ambassador, actor Lincoln Lewis, who recently visited numerous Queensland organic businesses including Fordsdale Organic Farms, Market Organics and Sherwood Rd Organic Meats, said he was impressed with the passion and commitment of all the producers.
“It’s great knowing the consumer is being listened to and these businesses are leading the way for a healthier, sustainable future,” said Mr Lewis who has been on a health and wellness journey over the last 18 months.
“So much effort goes into ensuring a product is certified organic. As someone who regularly purchases organic, seeing the Bud logo and knowing a product is genuinely organic is reassuring.”
The Australian organic industry is currently worth $2.6 billion and growing year on year. Strong growth has been driven largely by consumer appetite for natural, pesticide-free and synthetic chemical-free wholesome food and a growing awareness of environmentally sustainable practices.