Organic News (4)
Synthetic Methionine as a Poultry Feed Additive in Organic Poultry & Egg Production – the hidden 'Achilles Heal' of the Australian Organic Food Industry.Written by Certified Organic Solutions
By Barry Ferrier, PhD
Why choose organic food?
The vital job of agriculture is to produce enough food to satisfy the nutritional requirements of the world’s exponentially growing population - currently at 7.6 billion and rising fast! It was the industrialization of food production industries over the past two centuries that has made this challenging task appear achievable. But the rush towards industrialization in so many aspects of human society has had many unforeseen consequences to our natural environment and we have become gradually aware of some of the dangers of these practices to consumer’s health – consequences and dangers that make these practices inherently unsustainable. Fears that these “unnatural” dangers and consequences are not being adequately addressed by authorities add to a sense of foreboding about the future.
But that’s not a new phenomenon, and the modern organic food movement had it’s beginnings over a century ago when reforming ideas first began to find popular support independently in both German and English speaking countries, as a reaction to agriculture’s dramatic mechanization and the industrialization of society in general, and the subsequent loss of rural lifestyles and age-old connection with the soil.
In Germany it was an important part of a larger influential social movement (known as the Lebensreform or "life reform") which expressed a desire to resist this increasing industrialization, the use of and dependence on technology, rampant materialism, and de-personalized urbanization that were shaping a new way of life, one we have become used to now. This idealistic reform movement, led by idealists such as Rudolph Steiner, promoted the return to a more natural way of living that embraced a vegetarian diet, physical fitness training, natural medicine and going back to a relationship with Nature.
It was the runaway success of Silent Spring by American marine biologist and author Rachel Carson (1962) that proved a turning point for both the fledgling modern organic food and environmental activism movements (Kristiansen and Merfield 2006). Silent Spring’s poetic view of the chain of life underpinned by strong science, brought a whole new set of arguments against industrial farming focused on the use of chemicals, especially DDT, and their adverse (even carcinogenic) effects on human health, wildlife and the environment.
Food consumption patterns drive change in the food production cycle – demand affects supply - and consumer awareness is therefore a realm of key importance (and demonstrably more effective than government regulation) for progressing the world towards a more sustainable economy into the future.
The concept of “organic” food offers consumers a unique, visible class of products derived from more ecologically integrated farming methods and, in general, more carefully produced food, produced by farmers with an image of caring about these issues.
Organic food consumption is seen by advocates as a more responsible and sustainable diet that benefits the environment as well as personal health.
Organic consumers thus reject a passive role in the food system.
Taking an active role of choosing responsibly helps resolve the sense of contradiction between environmentally conscious behaviour and enjoying the hedonistic pleasures of life for their own sake. Thus the availability of organic food choices inspire consumers to adopt new values and ideals that give them a sense of participating in and supporting more sustainable food practices and a healthier planet.
Eating organic is in this sense a symbolic lifestyle choice and has thus long been associated with a range of New Age ideals and spiritualism, but in more recent times has found a wider following among the general public as a result of the greater awareness of health outcomes from diet choices, in turn resulting from access to the internet, and broader concerns in the community and mass media about pollution and climate change. The testament to this trend in awareness and consumption patterns is that the organic food section of your average local supermarket is now a familiar and accepted mainstream phenomenon.
People like eating meat. Animal proteins have no magic exclusive nutritional values, but many consumers are attracted by the palatability.
On a global level, the quality of the human diet is largely determined by the amounts of animal food products consumed. Meat, milk, and eggs are especially important because they furnish high quality protein to balance the protein available from vegetable sources, which tend to be too low in protein to meet the nutritional requirements of either adults or children. Vegetarian diets offer less range of choices for obtaining palatable proteins and can prove deficient in essential amino acids unless supplemented.
Poultry meat is the richest source of protein per unit of energy, and eggs furnish liberal amounts of vitamin A, riboflavin, and iron. For both taste and nutritional value, poultry has become a widely accepted component of the modern diet.
Organic food consumers are willing to pay a premium to enjoy poultry and eggs that offer these benefits of taste and nutrition, but are produced according to “traditional” (non-industrial) farming practices and organic ideals. In keeping with the socially responsible and health conscious spirit of the organic food movement, these consumers want to know the meat is free from “unnatural” synthetic inputs such as growth hormones, preservatives and chemicals, and they generally would prefer humane farming methods, and thus would be likely to support “free-range” chickens (more expensive to produce) over cheaper ‘battery’ farming methods. They purchase ‘organic’ chickens and eggs smug in the knowledge they are being conscious humans, helping save the planet for their children, while avoiding ingesting toxins.
The modern poultry industry – a brief overview
In 1920, an average farm flock consisted of 200 hens or less; whereas today with
advances in automation, the commercial poultry operation may commonly have 25,000 hens. Previous farm chores like mixing feed are mechanized or outsourced.
Despite these economies of scale, it takes considerable business acumen to keep a poultry enterprise profitable. A poultryman must be more aware of all phases of the business to survive in a very competitive industry. Feed manufacturers must also be acutely aware of the advances being made by poultry scientists so that their feeds measure up to the potential bred into modern birds, to keep their market share.
Poultry assimilate nutrients in feed for promoting growth, egg production, and replacing injured tissues. Advances in our understanding of animal physiology, and more especially the development of physiological chemistry over the last century, made possible more efficient feeds and feeding regimens.
Advances in poultry technology are gauged against the universal measure of broiler production efficiency — the pounds of feed required to produce 1 lb, or 1 kilo of meat. New developments in poultry nutrition, breeding, housing, and disease control all play a part in more efficient production, and have been implemented by industry players, who have gradually brought various phases of poultry production under one vertically coordinated management system.
The advent of synthetic vitamins, amino acids and surplus fats had a big influence on this picture. It has become possible to use lower cost sources of protein and energy. Poultry feeds today no longer carry as main ingredients just oats, wheat, barley or maize, and oilseed meal, but also include a long list of additives, some “synthetic”.
One of the more costly requisite nutrients is protein, which contains nitrogen, some sulfur, and very small amounts of phosphorus. During the digestion of proteins, they are broken up by enzymes in the body into amino acids, their so-called building blocks. The resulting amino acids are absorbed into the blood stream and form proteins. Free amino acids aren’t stored in body reserves. Generally, when the protein in a chicken’s feed ration is supplied mainly from vegetable sources, the biological value of the protein is considerably less than in the case of animal protein.
So-called “Essential” amino acids like Methionine (Met) cannot be synthesized by the bird and must be ingested through food, and must therefore be present in the feed in order to supply the building blocks needed in the synthesis of body proteins, and support desirable growth (Pesti., 2009). In a “conventional” commercial poultry farming environment, as the methionine content in raw plant materials is insufficient, synthetic methionine complements are now commonly added to the animal’s feed, driven by a profitability motive.
Methionine deficiency typically leads to poor feed conversion, leading to retarded growth in meat birds, curled feet and reduced egg production in layers and breeders.
Methionine is required to provide the building blocks for immune cells and tissues, so is significant to the bird’s ongoing health.
Methionine is a major component of feathers and is critical to feather formation. A deficiency of methionine results in poor feather growth. A methionine-deficient bird will tend to peck at a neighbour’s feathers in an attempt to obtain enough methionine. Feather pecking can quickly turn into cannibalistic behaviour in a flock and causes unattractive skin damage and which can lead to infections.
What is Synthetic Methionine and why feed it to chickens? Or why NOT?
The production process of synthetic methionine requires six main raw materials: sulphur, methanol, ammonia, propylene, sulphuric acid and energy (gas – CH4).
It can be a somewhat shocking fact to digest at first, but the basic raw materials used in synthetic methionine production for this “essential” poultry feed additive are derived from byproducts of the petrochemical industry – an especially jarring realisation to those who are inclined to eat “organic”. Propylene is the main strategic raw material for methionine production. Propylene is a colourless gas with a faint petroleum like odour, shipped in a liquefied form. The primary industrial source of propylene is from steam “cracking” of naphtha (a flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture) or other industrial liquids such as gas oil, to produce ethylene. This “cracking” is in itself a highly complex industrial process that is light years away from the concepts associated with eating organic food…
Even if you are not of “organic” persuasion, the concept of eating chicken fed with petrochemical byproducts is challenging, and thus the use of synthetic amino acids in poultry diets has been very controversial. Nevertheless, synthetic methionine is now commonly added to conventional poultry diets. It’s use however is “restricted” or banned outright in certified organic poultry diets, depending on the particular national organic certification protocols in place, and it is this variability, and lack of disclosure in packaging that has the organic purists worried.
“Free range chicken meat accounts for 10 to 15% of chicken produced, with less than 1% of the total production also being organic.”
(Australian Chicken Meat Federation statement)
In modern poultry farming, synthetic methionine now plays a significant role in increasing body weight, carcass yield, over all health of poultry and in foetal development . But its usage has been questioned in organic farming practices, and synthetic methionine is listed among the prohibited synthetic substances in some countries (Anonymous 1999), specifically BECAUSE such amino acids are produced either synthetically, or from genetically engineered sources, and the former involves the use of highly toxic and hazardous chemicals such as hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, and mercaptaldehyde.
Industrial synthesis of DL-methionine, and DL-methionine hydroxyl analogues also result in significant pollution of the environment (Methionine 2001). Further to this, synthetic methionine added to poultry diets is metabolized into highly toxic compounds like methyl propionate (a flammable substance used in paints & varnishes), thereby adversely altering “the performance” of birds (Bender., 1975).
The fact that ingredients used in synthesizing Met industrially are derived from the fossil fuel industry mean that they are therefore an inherently unsustainable input, and further, from an environmentalist’s point of view, it’s production also indirectly contributes to greenhouse gases, and ultimately climate change.
Getting back to the idealistic consumer of ‘organic’ poultry and eggs which we identified at the outset – all of this would come as a major shock to such consumers identifying with this highly aware and sensitive niche market IF THIS INFORMATION WAS AVAILABLE ON THE PACKAGING!
But it’s NOT. This is the Achilles heal of so-called “organic” poultry products and is seen by advocates of a “pure” organic certification scheme as a major sell–out of standards. Notifying organic food consumers of this practice by truth in packaging would inevitably cause an outcry, and a probable subsequent downturn in sales, and have a serious negative impact on profits, pushing some producers out of the industry. Producers of commercial organic poultry are likely to lose yield if synthetic methionine is universally banned under any changes to Australian certification protocols currently adopted by some key industry certification bodies, and this would result in price increases to the consumer, reduced sales and further impacting profitability.
But bringing this anomaly to public attention could have a more widespread effect of undermining the credibility of the certification process itself, and open up the organic industry to negative media coverage, which would put further strain on the viability of organic farming generally. It’s a conundrum some organic poultry producers and organic certifying bodies in Australia have fudged, compounded by the fact that some of the dominant certification bodies themselves are commercial operations which depend on levies paid by operators (based on a percentage of turnover), giving large producers potentially extra clout as lobbyists, and thereby possibly having an influence on a “pure” industry stance – which most organic consumers would agree should be a zero tolerance of synthetic inputs.
An example of this Achilles Heal being ‘suppressed’ in the organic food market is Woolworths Macro (in-house brand) of organic chicken meat, which is labelled as ‘certified organic’ under the bud logo of Australian Certified Organic, a leading Government approved commercial certification body. Woolworths responded to our query about this misleading packaging issue (in private correspondence) that they are above board because their organic chicken is certified organic by ACO – effectively passing the buck back to their certifier. There is no mention of the use of synthetic methionine to feed these chickens on the packaging.
AS we have seen from Woolworths’s response to our questioning of the use of synthetic feed inputs in growing Macro organic chickens, Australian Certified Organic (ACO), one of the most prominent Australian organic certification bodies, does in fact certify clients as “organic” who use synthetic methionine. In their earlier incarnation as the Biological Farmers Association they were in fact heavily involved in the push to reintroduce it into the domestic standard.
In the view of senior executive Andrew Monk, then head of standards for the association and a member of the Standards Australia committee, the methionine issue was “blown out of proportion”. He said he was sympathetic to consumer concerns, but that “in many cases industry had little choice”. Most Australian organic food consumers however would have little sympathy with this response.
The EU has had a period of allowing synthetic methionine to be included in organic poultry diets, but with the view to actively undertaking further study on organic alternatives. This period has now expired and from December 2017 onward, including non-organic protein sources in diets for organic poultry is now banned in the EU.
The US has had a similar policy and in the US The National Organic Program (NOP) has extended the moratorium period of allowance for synthetic methionine in organic poultry production - but at reduced levels. This appears to strengthen the defence of Australian Organic Network to our charge of having lax standards, but does not solve the basic paradox of feeding organic chickens petrochemical by-products and not telling Australian customers.
A number of dietary strategies can be applied in feeding organic laying hens with 100% organic ingredients and thus fulfil organic certification requirements of zero tolerance to synthetic/chemically produced inputs, but there is no doubt that it is difficult to design diets with sufficient MET and balance of other essential amino acids. Feed rations that are high in plant proteins, such as soybean meal, can be used instead of synthetic MET, but high-protein diets are not healthy for poultry or the environment. Diets containing fishmeal, milk products, and nonconventional sources of protein, such as earthworms or insects, can help provide MET, but the ingredients are expensive and, in most cases, not available in organic form. Genuine ‘free range’ poultry have more chance of eating enough Met because they have a chance of browsing insects and worms naturally, depending on the quality of the pasture.
Herbal preparations composed of single or multiple plant ingredients traditionally have been used for the health management in poultry i.e. tone up the liver, improve appetite, and increase disease resistance, but more research needs to be done to resolve the methionine issue in organic poultry farming.
Herbal methionine as a source of active methionine has been claimed to be effective on performance, cost benefit ratio, meat and feather quality of broiler chicken (Halder et al., 2007; Kumari et al., 2012) but has not become part of the solution in Australia.
Research was carried out at a poultry house in Kamthana, Bidar (KA), India indicates that herbal feed premix Methiorep can successfully replace synthetic DL methionine in feed as it has been proven to be effective in improving commercial broiler performance (growth, FCR, and livability parameters).
Studies have suggested it may be possible to develop microbial sources of methionine that would meet the criteria for organic use but since genetic modification is not allowed this will require isolation of naturally occurring methionine ‘over-producers’. Application of such cultures may work as external sources of pure methionine but it appears it may be more cost effective to develop a probiotic approach, either by directly administering such cultures or enriching for members of the gastrointestinal population already present that have this ability. (Saengkerdsub et al.; 2013).
Interest in Europe is growing in the potential of insect feed. The growing optimism follows comments by EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who told a recent conference that the Commission was looking to authorise the use of insect proteins in feed for poultry. Insect producer Protix has announced it is joining forces with Hendrix Genetics, a global poultry and other species genetics company, to develop an insect breeding programme. The chickens will celebrate this development!
American poultry producers have also been doing work on feed alternatives.
To meet his chickens’ methionine requirements without using supplements, Eric Sideman, director of technical services for Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, adds organic whole wheat, organic whole oats, alfalfa meal, sunflower meal, fish meal and limestone to an organic corn-soy meal base. He also suggests sesame or safflower as possible alternatives, but sunflower, sesame, and safflower suffer from a similar lack of supply. ‘Expelled’ sunflower seed (oil extracted) has a relatively high digestible Met content (Van Krimpen et al., 2016) and is the most commonly available organic option.
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How to fulfill EU requirements to feed organic laying hens 100% organic ingredients
- M. van KrimpenF. LeenstraV. Maurer M. Bestman The Journal of Applied Poultry Research, Volume 25, Issue 1, 1 March 2016, Pages 129-138, https://doi.org/10.3382/japr/pfv048
Anne Fanatico, Ph.D, Research Associate, USDA ARS : Organic Poultry Production: Providing Adequate Methionine. Published 2010 Updated July 2016 by Kevin Ellis, NCATAgriculture Specialist ©NCATIP363
Possibility for Probiotic Sources of Methionine for Organic Poultry Nutritional Supplementation: An Early Review; Center for Food Safety and Department of Food Science, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, 72704, USA; 2013Suwat Saengkerdsub, Corliss A O’Bryan1, Philip G Crandall1 and Steven C Ricke:
In a world under the shadow of bad news stories, wars, epidemics and political struggle it is great to break some GOOD NEWS!
Certified Organic Solutions have recently been working with Lismore City Council on a pioneering Australian first program to achieve organic certification status for kerbside food and garden waste. This is huge news for the organic food industry and opens up potential for this success to be emulated across the country. Here is the Lismore Council's Press Release:
Lismore City Council has this week been named the first council in Australian to achieve organic certification for compost made from kerbside food and garden waste.
The exciting news is another in a long list of waste management achievements for Lismore in the last 18 months including being named the first licensed phytocapping site in NSW and opening the state-of-the-art Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).
Lismore City Council achieved the certification through Australia Certified Organic (ACO) by putting in place new screening processes to remove plastics and other inorganic materials from the kerbside waste as well as hot composting, stringent product testing and cleaning/hygiene controls.
The news means organic producers from right across the Northern Rivers can purchase compost from Lismore City Council and maintain their own organic certification.
“The certification from Australia Organic is another feather in Lismore’s cap and something we have wanted to achieve for quite some time,” Waste Operations Coordinator Kevin Trustum said.
“In 2012 we achieved organic certification for the green waste people drop off at the Lismore Recycling & Recovery Centre, but the kerbside certification was much more challenging. Now we have a full complement of composting products that are 100% organic certified. That’s excellent news for organic producers and excellent for us in a business sense.
“We have totally closed the loop on our green waste services and that’s something we can all be proud of. It means local organic producers can buy local, and the money we generate can go into investigating and implementing further sustainability and recycling initiatives.
“The community wants Lismore to be a model of sustainability and being named the first council in Australia to gain organic certification for compost made from kerbside food and garden waste shows we’re really serious about achieving that vision.”
The organic certified compost is available for purchase from Council’s weighbridge for $35 per cubic metre. For more information phone 1300 87 83 87.
To mark the startup of this Australian First innovation, Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell and Waste Operations Coordinator Kevin Trustum planted a vegetable patch using the new, certified organic compost at 10.30am on Friday, 14 November 2014, at the Lismore Recycling & Recovery Centre, 313 Wyrallah Road, East Lismore.
See the informative video and download the information brochure pdf here.
by Sue Neales
"ORGANIC farming has moved from the hippie communes of Nimbin and hobby farms of Gippsland into the boardrooms, bank accounts, farming empires and bottom-line strategic thinking of corporate Australia.
A new survey to be released today by IBISWorld shows organic farming is a $655 million industry, growing at a phenomenal 12 per cent a year.
Organic produce also has emerged for the first time as a significant export earner, particularly organic meat sold to the US, with total exports valued at $66m last year.
IBISWorld analyst Caroline Finch said sales of organic produce still made up only 1 per cent of all income to farmers at the farmgate.
But by 2018, the IBIS report predicts organic farming will be a $1 billion mainstream agricultural industry, driven by continuing consumer demand for food that is healthy, safe, chemical-free and grown in a manner that is kinder to the environment and animals.
“Organic meat has been the big growth areas; it is something Australian producers can do really well because a lot of cattlemen and sheep farmers in the rangeland and outback areas aren’t using chemicals in the first place,” Ms Finch said.
“This is a very attractive space for producers to be in — and they are responding to the consumer demand — because it is one of the few areas of agriculture where you know your buyers are prepared to pay a premium for the food you produce.”
However, the number of organic farmers has not jumped despite the rapid growth in the organic industry, driven by major supermarket corporations Coles and Woolworths — which sell 60 per cent of all organic produce in Australia — demanding larger, more regular and more quality consistent consignments of organic food.
To fill the gap, several corporate and large specialist organic producers have recently seized the opportunity to benefit from the higher prices paid by consumers for food grown without chemicals and fertilisers on officially certified organic land. Organic produce sells at between 1.5 and two times the price of conventionally grown food.
“Australia has the largest area of organic farmland in the world at an estimated 12 million hectares, with the majority of rangelands used for organic cattle production,” the IBIS report says.
“As the industry undergoes rapid change, the type of farmers is also changing; over the past five years larger organic farm businesses have emerged to meet the demands for organic produce by large retailers and supermarkets.”
One such rising organic producer is former Air France and Virgin international pilot Paul Martin. A former Broken Hill boy, he returned to the outback three years ago to become pastoral manager for listed agricultural corporation Tandou, running a flock of 7000 organic Dorper breed ewes on 111,000ha of certified organic lease land owned by the company near Menindee Lakes in far western NSW.
Every year, the company aims to sell 10,000 organic lambs to local and export markets — with some of its organic lambs ending up in Woolworths, and the rest in the US.
Hardy Dorper sheep, originally bred in South Africa, are ideal for outback conditions such as the grassy downs, billabongs, baked claypans and bluebush of Tandou estate because they shed their wool and don’t need to be shorn, and thrive in environments where merinos or other European meat sheep would not,
Mr Martin said his lambs are fetching $6.50 a kilo as organic sheep, compared with $6 for conventionally reared produce, almost a 10 per cent premium.
“It means we get abut $148 a head rather than $132; that’s a big difference when you are running a big operation like ours,” Mr Martin said yesterday.
“And by default a lot of this rangeland western division lease land is organic because there is no need for fertilisers or chemical to be used on this country, because we don’t need to dip, jet or drench Dorpers for flies, worms or anything because they are so hardy,” he said.
“So for a company like Tandou, running an organic sheep business to earn the price premiums there for both export and local markets from organics makes good financial sense.”
3rd April 2012
Slater & Gordon Solicitors today lodged a claim in the WA Supreme Court on behalf of an organic farmer seeking to recover loss and damage allegedly caused by a genetically modified canola farmer neighbour. Steve Marsh, an organic farmer from Kojonup, Western Australia, suffered contamination by GM material on his farm in late 2010 leading to the loss of his organic certification and loss of income.
Slater & Gordon Solicitors are acting pro bono in the public interest. The Safe Food Foundation directed by Scott Kinnear, longstanding organic industry representative, is supporting Steve by raising funds to support the case. The SFF will coordinate the fund raising efforts of dozens of groups and thousands of individuals across Australia and internationally who have pledged to help Steve in this landmark legal battle.
“Steve has been deluged with offers of help since news of his story broke. The Safe Food Foundation has taken on the coordination of fundraising as a major project in support of Steve and the right of farmers everywhere to grow GM-free foods; which ultimately equals consumers’ right to buy and eat GM-free foods and to avoid potentially dangerous toxic GM foods” said Kinnear.
“There are legitimate concerns, derived from a body of developing research, that GM foods and the herbicide Roundup may be toxic,” Kinnear said. Roundup Ready GM crops such as GM canola, are resistant to the application of Roundup which is used on the crops to control weeds, causing Roundup residues to enter our food chain,” said Kinnear.
“We believe that Steve Marsh’s case is the tip of the iceberg and that unless stopped, Australia will follow Canada and North Americas dangerous lead, where there is virtually no GM-free canola available and GM residues are commonly contaminating non GM grain crops.”
“We suggest farmers considering GM canola for this year, should reconsider their plans until this case has resolved the issue of contamination and common law responsibilities. If this case fails, then there will be no turning back the GM tide as contamination sweeps through our food supply. We simply cannot stand by and let this happen” said Kinnear.
For more information:
Scott Kinnear, Director, The Safe Food Foundation