An announcement last week that Australia’s largest organic industry body, Australian Organic Ltd, has restructured its business into two separate sections – its certification arm and a new stand-alone, member-owned, not-for-profit advocacy group – has been questioned by the consultant who prepared a roadmap for a new peak body for the industry.
Tony Webster is the independent consultant for the Australian Organic Industry Working Group, which spent a number of months this year undertaking workshops and consultations with industry representatives, resulting from a desire expressed by the federal government to have a unified body to speak to on policy issues.
According to the Policy Partners summary, industry divisions over several decades have resulted in the organic industry having a poor reputation with governments, mainstream producers and the supply chain, and with external stakeholders.
“Grassroots organic growers, processors and traders are weary of the leadership divisions and absence of vision which so characterise their industry,” the report stated. “There is a desire for a new peak body that can overcome these problems and effectively represent the interests of the broader industry.”
The working group coalition released five options, the most preferred being to put the advocacy part of Australian Organics Ltd, together with NASAA Organic and the Organic Federation of Australia, to form a new peak body.
Mr Webster said the announcement by AO last week indicated they felt they were the biggest and the best, and so people would come along with them, but that wasn’t what was found in their consultation.
“It’s going to take a lot of concessions,” he said. “The AO model has a lot going for it but they need to adopt more value-adding for growers, such as a member council.”
In response, Australian Organic’s general manager, Emily Arnold said the de-merge was one of many possible steps to assist the industry and they were welcoming all ideas on how they move forward.
“At the Australian Organic annual general meeting, it was put to our members the prospect of a de-merge in order to allow AO the opportunity to represent the broader organic industry should this be the option the industry wishes to pursue,” she said.
This was unopposed by all members.
Emily said while AO believed it was positioned well to be able to offer this service to the broader industry, the de-merge was just one of many possible steps to assist the industry.
“Prior to the report by Policy Partners, the decision to de-merge was in process.
“The report prepared by Mr Webster at Policy Partners was commissioned by the steering group of AOIWG, and while AO contributed financially to its development, it was not the motivating factor for AO’s de-merge decision.”
She indicated AO would be instigating a process to open access to its “Bud” logo for all organic certification bodies.
“It’s early days but we’d be looking at how to promote other certifiers and their logos in their current form too,” she said.
The company restructure saw the appointment of Emily in the general manager’s role plus that of Rhiannon Christie as communications and marketing manager, which Emily said would allow AO to focus on more than the Bud and their own certification system.
“It will enable us to lobby the government on legislative changes, and for an increased focus on bringing more cases before the ACCC for questionable products.
“This will ensure the integrity and sustainability of certified organic products, which will provide clarity for all Australians.”