Organic Certification (2)
A profile of "Mr. Organics" Ben Debs, certified organic food industry consultant and certification support specialist.
Benjamin Debs was born in Cowra in 1965, and raised in the rural centre of Young, New South Wales, where he gained an extensive education in horticulture, including pruning and orchard management, with a particular focus on stone fruits.
Ben became interested in organic food 30 years ago when he travelled to the newly established counter-culture centre of Nimbin, full of ideals and inspiration, seeking an alternative, healthier lifestyle. When he wanted to feed his young children pure safe "organically grown" food, free of pesticides and artificial additives, he discovered it was very difficult to source reliable organic supplies, and it was not long before he began growing, and then later selling organic food, on a grass roots level, feeding his children home grown organic food and supplying friends with his surplus.
Through this early foray into selling his surplus organic food, he discovered a passion, drive and a business acument and he started purchasing produce direct from farmers, and selling into new markets, including fruit and veggie shops, food stalls, cafes, and restaurants.
In 1998 at age 25, intent on developing a lifestyle based around his passion for organic food, Ben purchased a run down farm in Tasmania, where he began to apply organic farming principles and improving the soil. Before long he was growing snow peas, carrots, potatoes, and garlic commercially.
ORGANIC ISLE PRODUCE, DELORAINE TASMANIA
With a continuig passionate desire to bring up his young family on pure organic food, Ben discovered seemingly insurmountable obstacles to obtaining organics locally, because of Tasmania’s strict quarantine laws. Always an innovator and creative thinker, the next step in Ben’s evolution was to set up Tasmania’s certified organic produce wholesaler Organic Isle Produce in Deloraine, with a mission to find a way to make the best in mainland organic food available to the people of Tasmania.
Faced with complicated procedures for importing food and the constant threat of chemical fumigation, the local organics industry was still fixed in the perception that buying from mainland organic farmers and importing organic food into Tasmania simply could not be done. With persistence, research and an innovative approach, Ben gradually overcame the administrative barriers, painstakingly convincing mainland individual farmers to gain certified clearance from such pests as fruit fly, and melon thrip, certified proof of which were required by AQIS Tasmania.
The success of his methods brought Ben industry notoriety and considerable media attention in Tasmania, and having built the business into a thriving enterprise, Ben sold Organic Isle Produce to Gary Norris in 2010.
EAST WEST ORGANICS
The natural progression from the Tasmanian experience was to initiate and develop the first dynamic model for the importing of organic food into Australia from overseas markets. East West Organics was Ben’s new national vehicle for importing the very first containers of certified organic dried fruit from Turkey, using the same skills developed as Organic Isle, achieving another “Australian first”. This was always done in harmony with Australian farmers, to ensure they were protected, based on a policy of importing only what Australia could not provide.
Ben also set up Sydney-based fresh and dried organic food wholesaler Pacific Organics which was later sold to Cameron Gough.
AUSTRALIAN ORGANIC NETWORK P/L
In 2013 Ben set up Australian Organic Network, the latest step in the evolution of his vision for organics in Australia. Bringing together a dynamic team of marketing, certification and farming professionals, and providing a synthesis of all Ben’s years of experience in the organic food chain, Ben has linked together his extensive network of organic farmers, his expertise with importing certified organic food into Australia, and his personal flair for promotion and marketing, to build a cutting edge organics company able to offer the widest range of organic food at the best prices, that offers a more personal and passion-driven alternative to the large corporate players that have traditionally dominated the Australian organics market.
Ben has been acknowledged for his remarkable "rags to riches" story by being featured on a major national current affairs television programme and achieving widespread press coverage.
In the thirty years since those humble beginnings and early successes, Ben has worked in every aspect of the organic food industry.
Always an innovator who thinks outside the box, and with a drive that frequently finds him attempting the supposedly impossible - Ben is a solutions oriented thinker and can help you understand the complexities of the certication process, plan for your transition and get across the challenging certication paperwork and build a realistic certification plan. Realising the challenges facing people new to the certified organic food industry, and having constantly advised people pro bono, Ben has now created Certified Organic Solutions. Firmly based on the belief that organics is important for our individual health and a sustainable future for the planet, it is a business specifically designed to support people at the transition into certification.
Ben has assisted a wide range of individuals and businesses in entering the certified organics industry. Companies he has assisted include Green Grove Organics, Junnee, with involvement in initial set up and he has also worked as food and ingredient specialist in assisting organic manufacturer Whisk and Pin with manufactured organic product development.
Certified Organic Solutions has recently made a huge innovative leap by entering into a unique relationship with Lismore City Council in the Northern Rivers region of far north NSW, and has now begun the process of aiding in a "national first" programme to make the green waste produced by the "state of the art" recycling department of Lismore City Waste and Recycling Centre into a "certified organic" operation, which will ultimately allow organic farmers access to a whole new avenue of supply for much needed certified organic mulch and compost that can be safely brought into the certified organic growing cycle by having accredited "certified" status on the recycled waste.
If you have a conventional farm and would like to make the transition into the certified organic produce industry, or you produce a valued added manufactured organic food product, or would like to bring green waste, organic fertilizers and mulches to the rapidly growing certified organic market, then talk to Ben and get some practical, experienced advice on how to make this dream a commercial reality.
Before 2009, a standard (guidelines and rules) did not exist for domestic and imported organic foods. This led to a misrepresentation of the word ‘organic’ in the Australian domestic food market. The use of the word ‘organic’ is not regulated in Australia, so it is important to make sure that products you buy come from certified growers and producers which guarantees they have been produced to national quality standards. Once a farmer joins a registered organic certification scheme, the designated farm can gain organic certification status after they have been operating according to organic principles for three years.
Two key national standards now govern the production, processing and labelling of organic food in Australia. These are:
- The National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce (for exported foods)
- The Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products (for domestic and imported foods).
These standards provide an agreed set of procedures to be followed in organic food production chain from farm to the consumer. This helps to ensure the integrity and traceability of an organic food product from ‘paddock to plate’. The standards include requirements for production, preparation, transportation, marketing and labelling of organic products in Australia.
While it is mandatory for exported organic produce to be certified and meet the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce, the Australian standard (for domestic and imported foods) is not mandated, and certification is voluntary. Its purpose is to assist the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC – the national consumer regulatory authority) to ensure that claims made about organic and biodynamic products are not false or misleading.
‘Organic-certified produce’ means the food was grown, harvested, stored and transported without the use of synthetic chemicals, irradiation or fumigants and the integrity of this status is verified under the scrutiny of a registered certification body.
How to identify food certified as organic
Suggestions for making sure the food you are buying is organically grown include:
- If you are buying from an organic retailer, check for the Organic Retailers’ and Growers’ Association of Australia (ORGAA) notice, which should be prominently displayed
- Choose foods with the label ‘certified organic’ from one of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) accredited certifying organisations
- Check packaging for the grower’s name and certification number
Do not be fooled by packaging that claims the produce is ‘natural’ or ‘chemical free’ if the proper certification labelling is not displayed.
Nationally Accredited Certifying Organisations
"http://www.daff.gov.au/" DAFF (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) is the government body responsible accrediting an Organic Certification Body, issuing an accreditation number.
Seven organisations are classified by DAFF as organic certifiers:
- AUS-QUAL Limited (AUSQUAL)
- Australian Certified Organic (ACO)
- Bio-Dynamic Research Institute (BDRI). An ethical, non-profit company with a focus on bio-dynamic principles, demanding the highest quality application of the biodynamic method, supporting family farms and businesses, and encouraging community based, sustainable, ecological activities. The Research Institute states that it "has stood firm and committed to its charter under the current corporatization that is occurring within the organic industry".
- National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia Certified Organic (NASAA Certified Organic)
- Organic Food Chain (OFC) represents the vision of two substantial, commercially orientated organic pioneering farmers and their families who recognised the need for an organised and highly accountable system of Organic Accreditation and product differentiation. The OFC today is comprised of the families of these pioneers and continues to work to develop and maintain strict standards that meet consumers’ expectations of "Organic" and represents organic farmers in a wide range of industry forums and standards councils.
- Safe Food Production Queensland (SFQ)
- Tasmanian Organic-Dynamic Producers (TOP).
Some of the certifying organisations have their own standards in addition to the National Standard.
Biodynamic farming is a type of organic farming pioneered by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, which places strong emphasis on ecological harmony and environmental sustainability. Biodynamic food is grown with particular composts, preparations and natural activating substances.
Things to remember
Organic farming is the production of food without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically modified components.
Organic foods are not necessarily completely chemical free, but the pesticide residues will be considerably lower than those found in produce manufactured with synthetic chemicals.
Choose foods labelled ‘certified organic’ by one of the seven DAFF-accredited certifying organisations.
Organic farming is better for the environment and more sustainable.