Australian Organic Limited’s Industry Statement of Support for Domestic Legislation
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 very first meeting with Government in February 2019. Since this beginning, AOL has advocated on behalf of its members and more broadly the industry meeting with the Federal Government, State and Territory leaders, industry organisations, international colleagues and, importantly, industry, to demonstrate the benefits consistency would provide for consumer confidence, operator credibility and industry-wide economic opportunities both domestically and internationally.
In June 2020, AOL provided an extensive discussion paper to Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, highlighting the key challenges and opportunities consistent regulatory reform would create for the Australian Organic industry. Over the next 6 months, AOL provided ongoing resources assisting the process for consideration.
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 how the organic industry can reach its full potential.
Consistent domestic regulation, designed to mirror the export requirements, will reduce the multitude of current issues organic operators are facing. 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 who claim to be organic – charging more for their products due to the reputation of organic products.
- There is also the issue of labelling, where non-organic operators will label their products as organic despite not being certified, or where only one of many ingredients in the overall product is certified organic, thereby taking advantage of 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. This is because organic operators looking to export will often be required to have multiple equivalencies across different countries, with each export arrangement agreed to costing a different amount. This hinders the ability for Australian organic operators to export, meaning an overall loss of opportunity to them and the Australian economy.
It is AOL’s recommendation that introducing a piece of domestic legislation would assist in reducing the burden for organic operators looking to increase their market access while helping Australian consumers purchase products in line with consistent regulation.
AOL believes the 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.
On 26 November, the Minister 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 which was held between 18 February and 17 March from which a final report to the Minister for Agriculture is set to be released. Over 80 submissions were received by the Department. AOL participated in the industry roundtable and also provided a submission to the consultation RIS.
Due to the announcement of the election on 10 April and the subsequent change of government the final consultation RIS report is still to be released. AOL continues to work with the new government and the Department of Agriculture to restart the process of introducing domestic regulation for the organic industry. AOL held an initial meeting with new Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt in November 2022, and our organisation is committed to assisting Government and industry to deliver an appropriate regulatory framework in 2023.
In the meantime, AOL invites you to add your name to the list of people who support consistent domestic regulation. To find out more please follow the link below.