Australian Organic Limited’s Industry Statement of Support for Domestic Legislation

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Ensuring consistency in how the Australian organic industry is regulated is one of the most important issues faced by organic operators that must now be prioritised, after four long years of discussion with the Federal Government.

For example, Australia is currently one of the only nations in the world without a mandatory domestic standard for organic food labelling, and this is having concerning flow-on effects not just for organic producers and businesses, but also our valued local and international organic consumers, rural and regional communities, and the broader Australian economy.

 

Background

Australian Organic Limited (AOL) has been at the forefront of highlighting the need for consistent domestic regulation of the organics industry in Australia since the first meeting with Government on this critical issue in February 2019.

Since then, AOL has advocated on behalf of both its members and the entire Australian organic sector, and has met with the Federal Government, State and Territory leaders, industry organisations and international colleagues to clearly demonstrate how consistency would build consumer confidence, operator credibility and industry-wide economic opportunities both domestically and internationally.

Importantly, AOL has also prioritised meeting with industry to communicate these benefits and to ensure we are representing the overwhelming support for change held by organic producers and businesses across the country.

In June 2020, AOL provided an extensive discussion paper to then Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, highlighting the key challenges and opportunities consistent regulatory reform would create for the Australian organic industry. Over the next six months, AOL provided ongoing resources to assist the Minster in his consideration of this issue.

In December 2020, Minister Littleproud announced the Organics Industry Advisory Group (OIAG), bringing together sixteen organic industry representatives; from producers to manufacturers, consumers to small growers, certification and industry bodies; to assess whether the current framework was fit for purpose and recommend what consistent domestic regulation should look like.

After discussions between January and June 2021, the OIAG agreed the current regulatory framework was not fit for purpose and made clear recommendations to Minister Littleproud on what was required for the organic industry to reach its full potential.

On 26 November 2021, Minister Littleproud announced a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) as part of the next stage of progressing the implementation of domestic regulation in Australia. This process included surveys with businesses and consumers, as well as industry roundtables, throughout January 2022, and a consultation RIS held between 18 February and 17 March, from which a final report was to be released to the Minister. More than 80 submissions were received by the Department. AOL participated in the industry roundtable and also provided a submission to the consultation RIS.

After the Labor Party won the May 2022 federal election, there was a pause in proceedings as the new Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry took shape.

On 30 March 2023, more than 12 months after the Consultation RIS process concluded, Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt announced that the Australian Government will not progress a domestic regulatory framework for organics. The Minister stated that the “…costs would outweigh the benefits”, based upon cost benefit analyses (CBA) that were conducted regarding regulatory pathways. AOL published a media release on 31 March 2023 in response to this announcement.

Representatives from AOL will be travelling to Canberra in June 2023 for further discussions on this important ongoing issue.

 

How the organic industry will benefit from domestic regulation

Consistent domestic regulation, designed to mirror the requirements for the export of organic goods, will reduce the multitude of current issues organic operators face.

These issues are highlighted in the report provided to Minister Littleproud on 29 June 2021 and include:

  • Consumer confidence – Consumer confidence is an important requirement for any industry. If customers can’t trust a product is what it claims to be, then they won’t buy it. Within the context of the organic industry, it was worrying that the 2021 Australian Organic Market Report found 31% of Australian shoppers believe they had been previously misled by organic claims on product packaging. The same research also found that almost 90% of food shoppers did not know there is no single definition for the term organic in Australia. These statistics highlight the risks for the organic industry around regulation and the potential loss of confidence if the organic industry is not regulated properly.

 

  • Operator Credibility – Becoming a certified organic operator is the best way to achieve credibility within the organic industry. Due to the lack of consistent regulation in Australia, the status of certification is being manipulated by non-certified operators. Despite the cost of certification being $1,000 across all certifying bodies, there are still examples of non-certified operators claiming to be organic, and benefiting from the reputation of organic products by charging more for their products. Labelling is also an issue. Some unscrupulous non-organic operators label their products as organic despite not being certified, or where only one of many ingredients in the overall product is certified organic. This markedly disadvantages operators who do the right thing and certify their products.

 

  • Market Access – There are countries Australia has trade agreements with that require an equivalent domestic standard. Since Australia does not currently have an equivalent standard, the cost of exporting to these countries is higher and requires more red tape to achieve access than it does for competitor nations supplying organic. Largely, this is because organic operators looking to export will often be required to have multiple equivalencies across various countries, with each export arrangement agreed to costing a different amount. This hinders the ability of Australian organic operators to export, meaning an overall loss of opportunity to them and the Australian economy.

 

The way forward

It is AOL’s recommendation that introducing a piece of domestic legislation would assist in reducing the burden placed on organic operators looking to increase their market access, while also affording Australian consumers greater confidence that they are purchasing legitimately organic products. AOL believes a consistent domestic regulatory framework through legislation would allow more equivalence agreements to be negotiated with other countries and help protect certified operators in the domestic market.

We invite you to add your name to the list of people who agree with the need for consistent domestic regulation. To find out more please follow the link below – we would be delighted to have your support.

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