Certified Organic Solutions
Certified Organic Solutions is a consultancy service for all things to do with organic certification and the organic food industry. With over 30 years experience in every aspect of organics, from farm certification and conversion, wholesale certified organic food, retail organic shops, importing and quarantine, to value added organic products and green waste and associated processes for organic farm inputs, we help you negotiate the red tape and planning and fast-track your road to national standards within the Australian organic food and produce industry.
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:
There are 10 good reasons to eat organic that affect you and your family's health. See the short fun video.
A beautiful video introducing Australia's premium wholesale supplier of Australian grown and imported certified organic foods. http://australianorganicnetwork.com.au
View the fun, light hearted and informative video on this great investment opportunity for those whose heart is in organics for the health of all Australians and a sustainable organic farming industry.
Find out about our exciting "Australian first" which is the foundation stone for an Organic Revolution right across Australia. Watch this informative short video on what is happening to change local council recycling centres and their treatment of green curbside waste - forever. Download the information brochure here.
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.
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.
Organic - for a Healthy Lifestyle & Sustainable Future
Organic farming and organic processes are about working with natural inputs to the farming process and using as little as possible of anything that will cause adverse environmental impact.
A key principle in organic production systems is to direct farming activity at improving the soil humus content so that plants and animals are being provided with an abundance of naturally occurring nutrients rather than water soluble elements.
Organic farmers, orchardists and live stock producers grow and produce food to strict national standards without using synthetic chemicals (such as pesticides or artificial fertilisers). They do not use genetically modified (GM) components or expose food to irradiation.
Australians buy organic food for health, ethical and environmental reasons, believing the food is better for your health and that the farming practices are better for a sustainable future.
Animal welfare and environmental sustainability are important issues for organic farmers. The term ‘organic’ can also cover animal products. For example, eggs certified as organic are free range, rather than from caged (battery) hens (caged battery hens can require antibiotics to sustain disease free production) and the food fed to them is also produced "organically" to national certification standards..
The range of organic produce produced under the organic certification scheme in Australia include fruit and vegetables, dried legumes, grains, meat and meat products, dairy foods, eggs, honey and some processed foods.
The Fundamentals of Organic farming
Organic farming is a philosophy and a way of life. Animals raised using organic methods are managed in accordance with the same certification standards which are aimed at maintaining a natural balance in farming without the use of chemical fertilisers and artificial or GM inputs in their feed, but there is also a strong ethical component in the standards regime which guarantees certified "organic" livestock are treated humanely and with respect. For example, chickens are free range and not kept in cages, and cows are not kept in the cramped and disease prone conditions of feed lots which require the administration of antibiotics to fight the diseases that occur in these unnatural conditions. Under a certified organic farming regime, animals are also not fed any growth-regulating drugs, steroids, hormones or antibiotics. However, the animals may be treated with vaccines to prevent disease.
Organic farming is also equally concerned with protecting the environment and working in harmony with existing ecosystems, including conserving water, soil and energy, and using renewable resources and natural farming cycles. Traditional pre-industrial farming methods are often used, such as rotating crops to prevent depleting the soil of nutrients.
Pesticides and other chemicals in organic food?
Because of the pervasive effects of "conventional" farming practices on wide swathes of Australian agricultural land, organic foods are not necessarily completely chemical free as an unfortunate result of this historical use of farmland. Pesticide residues can remain in soil for decades. Farmers transitioning from conventional farming practices can face circumstances where "organic" food must be grown on land which might still contain traces of chemical residues. Organic farms undergo regular soil tests with a zero tolerance policy for such chemical residues in the soil. However if chemical residues from conventional farming in soils are in a low range, then farmers are given the chance to develop scientific strategies to mitigate and reduce the effects of these historically occurring residues over time, and a program of soil regeneration will be undertaken. Therefore, whatever the history of the land, once entering a certification scheme, there will be a focus on improvements to the soil as a major part of the process. The minimal pesticide residues in organic food are therefore at worst significantly lower than those found in foods produced by conventional agribusiness farming practices, which by contrast use increasing amounts of synthetic chemical fertilisers and growth hormones to force feed crops and take an approach that attempts to lower production costs and improve yields by combating insect pests and competing weeds using industrially produced pesticides and herbicides which pose significant danger to human health.
Certain naturally occurring pesticides, including pyrethrins, light oils, copper and sulphur, and biological substances such as Bacillus thuringiensis, are permitted for use in certified organic farming.
Organic food is a growing industry
With increasing awareness of the importance of food quality and diet in personal health, and a growing consciousness of the fragility of our natural environment, consumer sentiment has matured and the Australian organic food industry is growing exponentially. It currently has a value to the economy of around $200–$250 million per year domestically and a further $50–$80 million per year in exports, with an expected annual growth of up to 60 per cent. In 2010, the retail value of the organic market was estimated to be at least $1 billion and the industry has boomed in the intervening years.
Informed consumer demand for organic food is growing at a rate of 20–30 per cent per year, with retail sales increasing at a massive 670 per cent between 1990 and 2001–02. It is estimated that more than six out of every ten Australian households now buy organic foods "occasionally", reflecting a widespread awareness of the value system embodied in the certification scheme.
Reasons to buy organic food
The typical organic consumer buys organically-grown food products because they have concerns regarding additives, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, or other artificially produced chemical residues. Although pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables are monitored in Australia, many people believe organic food is healthier.
Organic food and nutritional content
Several studies have compared the nutritional content of organic and conventionally grown plants, and most have shown no significant differences in overall vitamin and mineral content. However, although the differences are small, research has shown that some organic food has:
- Lower nitrate levels
- Higher vitamin C levels
- Higher levels of selenium
- higher levels of anti-oxidants
The ethics of Organic food
Organic food production techniques promote more humane treatment of animals, as well as providing meat that is free from hormones and antibiotics that can be passed on to the consumer. Also, there is a key concern among organic consumers about the long-term health, economic and environmental consequences of GM foods. They choose organic foods in support of an industry that does not use GM techniques believing these pose possible unforeseen dangers to the long term health of the environment and the gene pool of traditional foods.
Organic farming is better for the environment
"Organic" methods of food production promote healthier and more sustainable use of natural resources. Modern "conventional' farming methods, including excessive use of chemicals, which has led to a measurable decline in soil fertility, and an increase in salinity and blue-green algae in waterways over the decades since these techniques became acceptable and common. Organic farmers try to minimise damage to the environment by using manual labour to addressweed control, and animal and green manure.
Organic food retail outlets
You can buy organic food from:
Some supermarkets including the major duopoly
Some smaller green grocers
Health food shops
Some fresh food markets
Certified organic retailers.
The most common resistance encountered by organic producers is price driven. Costs are higher in organic farming. Organic food is often therefore more expensive than conventionally-produced food. This is because organic farming generally operates on a smaller scale, production is more labour intensive and, without herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals, yields are generally smaller.
Australian studies have shown consumers are willing to pay a premium of up to 15% for organic foods because of the perceived health and environmental benefits.