The OFA has undertaken many activities on behalf of the whole organic sector. Please take the time to read this so that you can understand exactly what the OFA does and the extent of these activities.
OFA Directors do not receive any payments and generously give their time to the sector. In many cases they pay their own expenses to promote, to educate and to develop our sector.
Independent consultants have estimated that this in-kind contribution by OFA Directors is worth around $500,000 to the sector.
The OFA continues to support WA organic farmer, Steve Marsh, in his legal action against economic losses caused by GMO canola contaminating his property.
The Chair of the OFA has been actively assisting Steve Marsh's legal team by providing technical and legal information that is needed for the court case. We have also put a link on the front page of our website to his campaign, featured him as a guest of honour at last year's OFA Lifetime Awards Dinner and we regularly mention the need to support him in our newsletter.
Steve Marsh's legal action is extremely important as the outcome will set the legal precedent on how organic and GMOs will coexist. This High Court case, based on the rights of organic farmers to be uncontaminated by GMOs, is the equivalent of the Mabo High Court case on indigenous land tenure. The results of that court case that occurred 20 years ago has changed the course of history and land tenure in Australia.
Steve is fighting a government and some of the world's richest and most powerful corporations who have billions to spend to get the result that they want. This will be an epic David versus Goliath struggle as the outcome of this court case will most likely be appealed and sent to a higher court. It could like many smoking and asbestos cases that go on for a decade or more and cost millions of dollars in legal fees.
Because an outcome in Steve's favour is critical to the future integrity of organic products to remain GMO free, it is essential that his campaign is strongly supported by the organic and anti GMO sectors.
The OFA always knew that this day would come if there were not adequate safeguards and legal protection frameworks in place for the organic sector. We made submissions to both the Primary Industries Standing Council (PISC) and the Primary Industries Ministerial Council (PIMC) on this. We wrote to Senator Joe Ludwig, the Minister for Agriculture, suggesting a roundtable approach to develop guidelines that would prevent the GM contamination of organic produce in order to prevent court cases and extended legal battles. The Minister responded saying that he didn't want to do this and that the courts can deal with it.
The Release of GM Canola and the ending of GMO moratoriums means that the OFA has been making GMO's a priority due to the significant risk of genetic contamination.
The OFA joined with Greenpeace and other Australian and international organisations to oppose the push for GM wheat. The joint statement generated a lot of media around the world.
The issue of organic agriculture and GMOs is starting to make the national news again due to the Steve Marsh's High Court Case.
The WA government and various state farmers association are attacking the organic sector for not permitting any level of GM contamination on farms or organic food. Our position was initially based on the precautionary principle, however there is a strong body of science detailing the serious health effects that can come from consuming GMO food.
We have written a valuable resource document, based on credible science that shows a wide range of illnesses and other negative health effects that can come from eating GMO food. This document has good pictures that show the significant differences in animal development and the effects on various body organs between the groups that are fed GMOs and those not fed GMOs. Please take the time to read GMO Safety Issues Based on Science online at the OFA website or download it here.
We also have a PowerPoint Presentation that can be downloaded from the OFA website that outlines the health dangers of GMOs.
OFA Directors have participated in many meetings, conferences and forums with industry and grass roots stakeholders throughout Australia to promote and discuss organic systems and sector issues. These meetings involved presentations, consultations and opportunities for stakeholders to have input, ask questions and have any concerns addressed.
The National Food Plan is a significant undertaking by the Australian Government as it aims to have one coherent strategic plan for the food policies of all the relevant Federal Government departments. This should be an improvement on the current ad hoc process where each department makes policy with limited regard to other relevant departments.
The Directors of OFA participated in several high level round table workshops and made a detailed submission to the most recent draft version of National Food Plan.
Key points in the comprehensive OFA submission advocate for better market access for organic producers and most importantly a credible domestic regulatory system to protect integrity of organic products for consumers and producers. The OFA rebutted on the Plan's justification for the introduction on GMO's and the continued use of pesticides in food production. These rebuttals are based on peer reviewed published science showing the negative health effects of both pesticides and GMOs.
The submission is an excellent reference document on the multi-functional benefits of organic agriculture. You can download the OFA Submission to the National Food Plan from the OFA website.
The OFA website continues to grow and continues to be accessed by more people every year. The website is a valuable resource with a lot of useful information and position papers that can be downloaded for free.
Our website is linked to our Facebook and Twitter pages enabling all stakeholders to follow and actively engage with us.
We would like to thank our Webmaster, Julian de Saxe, for the huge amount of work he has done with our digital media.
Board members have been involved in a wide range of media to promote organics. These included the OFA Newsletters, the Website and the national media, including the specialist organic media and major Australian organic industry internet newsletters such as the ABC, Acres Australia, Acres USA, OFA Organic Update, Clean Food Organic, Ecology and Farming, Organic News, TOS, ABC Organic Gardener, The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, The AGE, The Western Australian, Adelaide Advertiser, Courier Mail as well as regional papers and radio stations among others. In particular the previous OFA Deputy Chairs Tim Marshall and Alexandra Mitchell as well as the Chair regularly write articles and do media interviews.
The OFA has sent out media releases to every Australian newspaper, radio station and TV station about the benefits of organic food and farming systems. Consequently we do numerous interviews for radio, newspapers and magazines on the subject. The result has been a lot of good publicity for organic food and farming systems.
Thousands of subscribers receive the OFA Organic Update, a regular electronic newsletter about organic issues in Australia and around the world. It is a useful resource on the numerous issues that surround organic food and farming such as the health and environmental issues of pesticides and GMOs and the many multifunctional benefits that are delivered by organic production systems.
It is also an excellent way to keep up to date with the many activities undertaken by the OFA.
A new consumer research initiative led by the University of Canberra and University of Queensland and supported by NASAA and the OFA aims to provide important research insights for domestic suppliers and producers of organic foods.
This research has been carried out at a national level and aims to help determine the practical and strategic implications for sustainable growth of the organic food sector in Australia. Integral to the research will be investigating what the existing perceptions are and how the industry can best position itself to serve the long-term needs of the organic consumer.
Earlier research indicated that Australian consumers generally have a very basic understanding of the term 'organic food' but are not familiar with organic farming practices, the value of certified organic and how this differs from conventionally farmed produce.
There is also an issue of "trust" in organic labelling.
The first part of the research will undertake to explore current consumer knowledge regarding organic farming practices and certification processes along with the issues surrounding packing and labelling. It will also investigate consumer scepticism around the use of the word 'organic' and the labelling process.
The OFA is extremely pleased that NASAA is providing the seed funding for this project.
The Annual OFA Lifetime Achievement Awards Dinner was held on the evening of July 20, 2012, in conjunction with the Sustain show (formerly the Organic Expo). It was a time when we formally recognised the wonderful people who have generously given years of their life to promote and build the organic sector.
It was also a time when we could celebrate with our friends and enjoy the taste and quality of organic food and wines, prepared by one of Australia's leading chefs.
Over 80 people attended the OFA's Lifetime Achievement Awards Dinner at the widely acclaimed Agapé Restaurant. Agapé's chef, Simon Lawson excelled himself by serving many courses of high quality organic cuisine.
The winners of last year's awards were Fred and Coral Davies and Bev and Ron Smith. Awards from the previous year were presented to Els Wynen and Keith Morris who could not attend at that time.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries along with the OFA, NASAA, OFC, BFA and SCPA have sponsored an award for NSW residents who have had a significant role in pioneering the organic sector in that state.
The Awards were presented at a cocktail event to be held on the evening of July 19, 2012 from 6:30 - 8:30 pm at Moore Park Sydney and coincided with the SUSTAIN Expo. Sam Statham from Rosnay Organic Wines won the main award.
One of the OFA's primary activities has been working with the whole organic sector and the Australian Government on getting regulatory protection for organic products. We need to protect the producer, the consumer and also the integrity of the word "organic" from fraud and misuse.
The Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products (AS 6000) was initiated by the OFA and AQIS in an effort to get regulatory protection for organic products by working within the existing regulatory system. One key part of the decision to go down this regulatory pathway is that under an MOU between FSANZ and Standards Australia, Australian Standards can be referenced in the Food Standards Code. They could also be called up into the Trade Practices Act (now the Competition and Consumer Act 2010).This gives clear regulatory guidance to the courts and to the appropriate regulatory agencies including Australia's main food regulatory agency, FSANZ.
The key issue for the organic sector is that Australia only has a mandatory law for the export of organic products. There are no specific laws to protect the integrity of products labelled as organic on the Australian domestic market. On top of this around 60% of the organic products sold in retail outlets are either fully imported or a composite of imported and domestic products. The integrity of organic products is open to numerous self-claims.
This presents massive difficulties for the more than 60% of Australian consumers who regularly purchase organic products.
Newspoll research shows that the majority of consumers are confused when identifying genuine organic products. There is also the issue that these consumers do not have adequate protection over the veracity of organic label claims.
The organic sector has been concerned about this and has tried since the 1980s to get regulatory protection of organic products, mostly through the Food Standards Code (FSC). This has been regularly declined because FSANZ has stated that 'organic' is not a food safety issue and therefore will not support an Organic Food Standards Code.
After numerous consultations with the Australia Government, the OFA was given a roadmap on what was required to get a regulatory system for organic products. This involved having an Australian Standard that could be called up into the relevant sections of the regulatory laws of Australia. The government of the time - both ministers and departmental officials pointed out that the current export regulation using the National Standard could not be used for these purposes - only Australian Standards could be used in this way.
The OFA continues to actively participate in the Standards Australia FT-032 Committee on the current revisions to AS 6000. This is the broad based stakeholder committee that makes the decisions on AS 6000.
Australia has very few equivalency agreements. The most important is with the European Union (EU).
There are no agreements with the world's largest organic market, the USA and other important markets such as Canada, China, Korea, India and Japan. This means that Australian producers have to pay extra money to get the extra certifications that are required by these countries. These are quite expensive and add extra time and compliance costs to producers.
The OFA has been active in facilitating market access for Australian organic producers, AQIS has been trying to get an equivalency agreement with the USA for over ten years and nothing has happened. The Chair of the OFA has had a range of discussions with US officials and industry leaders on this. Due to these negotiations Australia has now been placed on the list of priority countries. Currently Australian producers need to pay the extra costs of a specific certification for the US market.
The ASEAN countries are in the process of fully integrating their economies in a similar manner to the EU. The Asian Regional Organic Standard (AROS) is in the process of becoming the official organic standard for the ASEAN region and Australia should start working now to get equivalency with the AROS. If this is not done then Australian producers will need to get a specific certification to AROS to sell their products in the ASEAN region. This has already happened to Australian producers when China and Korea brought in their new regulations.
Thailand, one of the leading ASEAN countries, has declined the offer by AQIS to have equivalency with Australia because under the current export system they, along with every other country, have full market access now. There are no benefits for them to give market access to Australian organic producers. Under the current export system, there is no mechanism of stopping organic imports.
At one stage Canada was prepared to negotiate an equivalency agreement. However when they realised that they have unlimited access to the Australian market under the current export regulation equivalency. Australia is now at the bottom of the pile while Canada actively pursues equivalency agreements with other countries. This means that Australian producers who want to get products into Canada have to pay the extra costs of another certification.
Japan and Korea have told Australian Government House of Representatives Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade that they will not grant bilateral equivalence in trade to Australia for Organic Products until Australia has a domestic protection of the organic sector. The current export arrangements are not sufficient for them and they see the lack of domestic protection as a huge loophole.
The Chair of the OFA appeared before the Committee to answer their queries and explained the need for Parliament to support the relevant ministers calling up the Australian Standard, AS 6000, into the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and/or the Food Standards Code.
Having the Australian Standard, AS 6000, called up into the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and/or the Food Standards Code will give us a mechanism to regulate imports and effectively negotiate equivalency with our trading partners.
AS 6000 does have an equivalency mechanism through its sister document, MP 100 that outlines the certification requirements to AS 6000. If AS 6000 was called up into the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and/or referenced in the Food Standards Code as proposed by the Blewett Inquiry and as advocated by the OFA, there would be a legal basis for restricting imports and this can then be used as a negotiating tool to get equivalency agreements.
One of the divisive standards issues has been over supplementing organic chicken feed with a synthetic version of the essential amino acid called Methionine. Many commercial organic chicken and egg producers state that they cannot get enough natural methionine from organic feeds and have to add synthetic supplements to get the correct level to avoid deficiencies. Most international standards prohibit this and most certifiers oppose this practice. The standards committee that developed AS 6000 came up with a compromise to allow it on a temporary basis with a sunset clause to phase it out by 2014. This was designed to give the current poultry producers time to develop alternatives so that they did not need to use these synthetic supplements. A sub-committee of the AS 6000 standards committee, chaired by the OFA, was set up to develop the alternatives to synthetic methionine.
The United States was having the same debate with a similar sunset clause provision. Dr Walter Goldstein from the Michael Field Biodynamic Research Station in Michigan has been developing corn varieties with high levels of methionine that grow well under organic farming methods. The first published feeding trials of these varieties show that they perform better than synthetic supplements in helping chickens gain weight and produce eggs. They also increase the beneficial carotene levels in chicken meat and eggs. These carotenes are powerful antioxidants that protect people from degenerative vision problems and other degenerative disease as well as having anti-cancer properties. This will be a significant point of difference when selling the advantages of organic poultry products.
The Chair of the OFA contacted Dr Goldstein, who generously agreed that the OFA could import this new corn variety into Australia. The Chair did all the necessary work to obtain the import permit from AQIS. He met Dr Goldstein in Chicago and imported the seeds into Australia. He personally cleared them through customs and took them to the government quarantine facilities where they had to be grown out for a generation to ensure that there were no pests and diseases. They were also tested for the residues of all the known GM varieties of corn to ensure that they were not contaminated.
These seeds were released after six months and have now been grown in the first field trials in Queensland and Victoria to establish their growing requirements and also to build up the amount of seeds so that they can be made available on a commercial scale. The next phase of the trials will be later this year. This new variety of corn, especially bred for organic growing conditions and for organic chicken production, should be available for limited commercial production in the Spring of 2013. This will mean that there is no reason to continue with synthetic methionine in organic chicken systems and no reason to allow its use in any organic standard in Australia.
The OFA Environmental Research and Education Trust achieved full tax deductibility from the Australian Government. The aim is to attract investment into sound scientific research and education relevant to organic and bio-dynamic management systems and marketing.
In order to fully capitalize on this strongly increasing global demand, Australia needs to invest in research and education to help develop cost-effective organic food supply chains that are in tune with our unique environment, deliver high quality food products and ingredients, and provide farmers with decent livelihoods.
Over time the OFA Organic Trust will help Australia to become a significant domestic and world organic food supplier by targeting research and education programs that address challenges to Australian organic food and farming systems development.
Investments in the Trust will accelerate the development and uptake of organic farming practices, thereby underpinning the long-term sustainability of Australia's food production systems. The first investments have started and have resulted in a series of Biodynamic Workshops around Australia.
The OFA had an undertaking from the Hon. Tony Burke in 2008 when he was the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to increase R&D into organic systems, however nothing has been delivered.
Instead, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Organic Program, the only Research and Development program for organic systems ceased when the current Australian Government severely cut the budget of RIRDC.
This was a small program of around $300,000 per year - a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds that goes into R&D for other farming systems, such as GMOs.
The OFA wrote to the Prime Minister on this issue. The current Federal Agriculture Minister, Senator Ludwig, responded to the letter by stating that there was no need to fund organic research as they were already funding 'green' agriculture. We will continue to advocate on this issue.
Previously the OFA had contributed to many RIRDC research projects by providing funding and in kind support. The most recent project has been on Organic Rice.
At this stage the OFA Organic Trust is the primary vehicle for generating funding for organic research. The money that is provided by industry will be tax free if they do it through the Trust.
37 workshops specifically designed for organic producers have been completed. They ran across all states of Australia and hundreds of farmers participated in them.
The workshops brought together the latest research and best practice from organic producers from all around the world. They covered the background to climate change, farming strategies that maintain production and sequester carbon, marketing and business impacts of climate change and how to find opportunities such as a value chain approach to marketing.
The OFA produced a manual on managing Climate Change in Organic Systems. This book outlines the proven practices for increasing soil carbon as well as numerous management methods for improving water and energy use efficiency on farms to increase adaptability, reliability, crop yields and reduce expenses.
Hard copies of this valuable resource are available for sale from the OFA. These were used as manuals for the Climate Change Workshops. We now also have this resource available as a free download from our website.
The OFA held Australia's first National Conference on Farming and Climate Change in 2006 and has been actively advocating for payments to farmers for good practices that sequester carbon dioxide. OFA directors have given many presentations on this to all levels of government and all political parties at meetings and at numerous industry events.
OFA Directors are pleased that the main political parties in Australia have this on their agenda. The current federal government has launched the Carbon Farming project and the opposition intends introduce a scheme that also pays farmers for soil carbon if it wins government. The opposition is currently advocating the use of organic fertilisers as part of their policy.
These schemes have the potential to mitigate all of Australia's greenhouse gases as well as significantly improve the adaptation of farming to the ever increasing frequency and intensity of the extreme weather events that are being caused by climate change, as well as an extra income source for farmers who adopt good practices.
More than 60% of Australia consumers regularly purchase organic products according to Newspoll research commissioned by the OFA. The Newspoll research shows that the majority of consumers are confused when identifying genuine organic products by the enormous clutter of numerous organic labels and competing claims from green-washed 'eco/natural/sustainable' labels. Almost 90% of consumers have stated that they want one simple, clear universal mark to identify organic products.
Most countries have such a mark and experience shows that a dramatic increase in organic sales occurs once this mark has been introduced, whether it is a national mark such as in the USA and Canada or a regional mark such as in Europe. Sales of organic products increased by 45% in both the USA and Germany in the first year that their national marks were introduced and have continued to increase every year after that.
The South Australian Branch of the Organic Federation of Australia (OFA(SA)) was formally set up as a branch in 2010. It has just restructured with a new executive. Details about OFA(SA) can be found on our website.
Below are some of the activities undertaken by the of OFA(SA) Committee:
The Victorian Organic Industry Committee (VOICe) and the OFA signed a Memorandum of Understanding so that VOICe is established as a committee of OFA. Under the agreement VOICe may establish its own membership criteria and rules providing they comply with the OFA constitution.
The OFA acts as an auspicing body for VOICe in industry development funding. The OFA provides a service to oversight reporting and the proper discharge of any funds received and provided VOICe with a separate bank account.
Several funding grants were approved by the Victorian Government for VOICe including Women in Organic Agriculture, Conversion to Organic Farming and the Compelling cases for Organic Agriculture. The OFA has auspiced these projects on behalf of VOICe.
The Board of the OFA would like to acknowledge and thank Liz Clay, the Chair of VOICe, for all the long hours that she has provided in getting these projects up and liaising with the OFA.
The OFA has an education committee that has been active in a range of education and training needs for the whole sector. In the past we were involved with the Agri Skills Council and Orange TAFE in developing the nationally accredited Cert IV and Diploma courses in Organic Agriculture.
The OFA researched the training needs of the organic sector in 2011. The plan assessed the training and education needs and looked at the most strategic way to implement them. As a result of this TAFE has put out around 100 positions for people interested in getting formal qualifications in organic agriculture.
The OFA has put a considerable effort into developing a credible relationship with all the Australian Governments through regular meetings with ministers, advisors, members of parliament and departmental officers in Canberra and every state capital.
The Primary Industries Ministerial Council issued a significant statement of support for the Australian organic industry.
The council which consists of all the Primary Industries Ministers of the Australian Government and State and Territory Governments stated that they:
Particularly pleasing is the fact that governments recognize the increasing importance of organic agriculture in the Australian environment and national economy, while acknowledging the key role of the Organic Federation of Australia as the peak body in unifying the Australian organic sector
This acknowledgement of the importance of the organic sector has been the culmination of several years of work by the OFA.
The Board would particularly like to thank our Secretary, Naomi Cauley for all the extra work she does on top of the hours that she is paid for. In particular we would like to thank Alexandra Mitchell for all the work she has done as Acting Chair and Retiring Director Bernie Von Pein.
Most importantly we would like to thank all our members. You are very important to us, because without your contributions we would not have the funds to operate this organization and work on behalf of all of us to ensure that the organic sector has an expanding and vibrant future. We sincerely appreciate your continued membership.