Australian organic certification body, the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture (NASAA) has called upon the State and Federal regulators to provide greater regulatory certainty on the application of National Standards for Organic and Biodynamic Produce.
The move follows a landmark high court decision that ruled in favour of conventional farmer Graham Baxter, who’s GM canola allegedly contaminated a neighbouring organic property owned by Steve Marsh, resulting in Marsh losing his organic certification to a significant proportion of his land.
NASAA says that Justice Martin’s decision to rule in favour Baxter is a “significant blow” for Marsh and the organic sector of Australia as a whole.
NASAA maintains that it acted responsibly in withdrawing Organic Certification rights to Marsh’s land despite Justice Martin finding that the decertification was ‘erroneous’.
Ben Copeman, General Manager of NASAA said that the Court’s decision not to recognise NASAA’s decertification of Marsh’s land as warranted highlights the need for regulatory reform.
“We found GM canola growing on organically certified land. The court found that there was no risk of GM contamination," says Copeman.
“While tolerance thresholds for GM contamination are governed by the Federal Government under the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce, it is not a legislated standard and is not recognised by the courts.
“Without any legally recognised form of protection, Australian organic farmland and produce is left vulnerable to contamination from conventional farming methods including GM crops. This could seriously threaten the sectors access to domestic and international organic markets.
Copeman said that the decision has the potential to opens a “Pandora’s Box of conflicts” between neighbours and farming communities
“Farmers across Australia are left with an uncertain future. The need to recognise and support greater commercial security for both organic and conventional (GM free) farming is now an issue of national importance," said Copeman.
“The issue of how organic and non-organic farmers can co-exist while respecting each other’s right to farm in the way they choose will not go away and needs to be resolved.”
NASSA recently secured approval from Chinese regulators for its certification arm, NASAA Certified Organic, to inspect organic operations within Australia for export to China.
According to NASAA, the deal has the capacity to boost Australia’s organic and biodynamic industry by up to $100m per year, and marks the first time that a foreign organisation has been approved to inspect organic products for export to China.
Copeman says that progress on this agreement and others like this will be put at risk if Australia is seen to be unable to ensure the security of its organic produce.
“Australian organic standards and related export regulations have a good international reputation in key markets within SE Asia, China, Japan, USA and the European Union.
“Any unreasonable risk of contamination can lead to a loss of recognition and acceptance of Australian certified organic produce and those markets being inaccessible to Australian famers.”