(Corrects spelling 1st par)
By Colin Packham
SYDNEY May 29 A landmark GMO contamination
ruling in Australia could possibly usher in lower organic
farming standards, ending the country's world-leading premium
niche and threaten organic exports in an industry set to double
in size by 2018.
Australia currently does not allow any trace of genetically
modified organisms (GMO) in its organic produce.
But after an Australian court ruled on Wednesday against an
organic farmer's damages bid, after GMO canola seed heads blew
onto his property, causing him to loose his organic licence,
many believe the zero GMO standard will now be watered down.
A move to a European Union model, which allows up to 0.9
percent, is being mooted to prevent farmers falling short of the
required Australian organic standard and against a backdrop of
increased GMO sowing in Australia.
However, a watering down of the regulations could limit
Australia's organic exports to some key markets.
Andrew Monk, chairman of Australian Organic Ltd, the
country's largest certifier, said he did not believe the
standard needed changing and warned of the dangers of doing so.
"We would be really shooting ourselves in the foot in terms
of future supply into markets like Asia and Europe for what are
high valued, premium products," said Monk.
RISE OF THE GMO
After the Supreme Court of Western Australia rejected Steve
Marsh's bid for damages from his former friend Michael Baxter,
after winds carried harvested seed from Baxter's Monsanto
Roundup Ready canola crop on to Marsh's farm,
legal experts said Australia's zero tolerance
towards GMO will difficult to maintain.
"If any organic food consumers or producers want to maintain
a strict and rigid GM-free standard for their organic products,
the judgement means it will be harder to do this," said Joe
Lederman, Managing Principal, FoodLegal. "It is not impossible
but there will be a huge cost in doing so."
GMO crops accounted for about 15-20 percent of Australia's
3.2 million tonne canola crop in 2012/13, according to the
Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF), and the proportion has
Australia is the world's second largest exporter of canola,
with approximately 50 percent of its sales to the European
Union, but it profits from being largely non-genetically
modified, unlike market leader Canada, says Nick Goodard,
Executive Director, AOF.
"While the EU standard is 0.9 percent, the market
effectively demands our canola to be completely free of any
trace GM," said Goodard.
SLOWING THE GROWTH OF ORGANIC
Should Australia keep its organic standard, it risks having
to decertify farmers and increasing the oversight impositions on
growers, deterring farmers from producing organic produce.
Whatever course Australia chooses, analysts said the Marsh
vs Baxter ruling will challenge Australia's rapidly growing
Australia's organic market was seen as a A$655 million
industry in 2013, according to a report by IBISWorld, having
grown at 12 percent a year over the last five years, and it is
set to top A$1 billion by 2018, driven by soaring prices.
While the market has grown substantially, the IBISWorld
report says Australian industry has already struggled to attract
significant increases in organic farmers, despite the
attractiveness of profits.
According to a International Federation of Organic
Agriculture Movements 2011 report, a total 37.2 million hectares
of global agriculture land was devoted to organic farming in
2009, with Australia having the most organic agricultural land
with 12 million hectares used for organic farming.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)