Australia’s certified organic industry has been left “shocked and disappointed” at the decision by Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt to abandon plans to introduce domestic regulation, rejecting the recommendations of his own panel of industry experts and thousands of producers.
In a bitter twist, the Australian Government’s decision came on the same day New Zealand’s parliament formally passed a bill to create an organic standard, leaving Australia as the only developed country in the world without organic regulation.
In a statement yesterday, Minister Watt claimed that cost benefit analyses had shown that “the costs would outweigh the benefits”. He added: “While a mandatory domestic standard could provide a range of potential benefits for organic sector, the costs of designing, monitoring and enforcing an economy-wide regulatory scheme of this nature would be significant.
“What’s more, the CBA’s show that these costs would likely be passed through the supply chain to consumers and would add to cost-of-living pressures.
“In making this decision we’ve carefully examined the evidence and released multiple reports on the matter.
“These reports show that the absence of a domestic organic regulatory framework does not and will not in the future impact international trade in Australian organic products.”
But Australia Organic, the country’s sector lead, strongly contests this, arguing that with “no mandatory domestic standard or even a single legal definition of the term ‘organic’, Australian exporters face increased compliance costs in meeting the requirements of multiple overseas markets, while domestic consumer confidence is jeopardised, given a product with only a tiny amount of organic content can be passed off as ‘organic’.”
Australian Organic Limited Chief Executive Officer, Niki Ford, whose organisation has been advocating for standardised domestic regulation for more than four years, said the two-billion-dollar industry was shocked by Minister Watt’s decision which would seriously stymie its ability to unlock valuable overseas markets and leave the door open to unscrupulous operators misusing the term organic.
“Without a federally mandated standard, some countries do not recognise the organic credentials of our producers even if they have certification from trusted and independent bodies here in Australia,” Ms Ford said.
“So, producers then have to pay for access and the costs can add up or discourage businesses from even trying.”
“Today, with the stroke of a pen and barely a sideways glance at our hardworking producers, the Minister jettisoned years of careful and considered work on domestic regulation and left us with nothing.”
Image: Niki Ford (Australian Organic Limited)