Back to the news list Shoppers want clarity on organic produce standards
18 June 2020 - Media Release - Stuff NZ

Some shoppers of organic produce are concerned about the ambiguity of proposed organic legislation, which does not define what organic means.

The Organic Products Bill making its way through primary production select committee, could see the principles of organic food production corrupted unless it was amended, some consumers say.

New Zealand is only one of two exporting countries in the world that does not have national standards to define organics, Organics Aotearoa New Zealand said in its 2018 organic market report.

Organics Aotearoa, producers and consumers have been asking the Government to provide minimum standards to protect the industry from greenwashing, and attract investment and exports.

Organic farmer Claire Bleakley said getting the bill right was important because any standards would be informed by the legislation.

Therefore, the inclusion of a definition and a statement of organic principles in the bill was vital, she said.

'It's easier to accept the non-organic version when the growing details are not [on the label],' says Claire Flynn.
"It's easier to accept the non-organic version when the growing details are not [on the label]," says Claire Flynn.

Last week organic producers and others criticised the bill for these omissions and because it would duplicate existing certification systems making it more costly.

According to the majority of submissions, a major bone of contention was that the bill did not prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in organic food.

Organics shopper Claire Flynn of Rotorua said she was happy to pay a premium for organic food.

"What is important for me ... is that the food for my family is as natural as possible," she said.

This meant being nutritious, free from pesticides and other poisons, grown regeneratively, and not harmful to ecosystems or the environment, she said.

It was also a political choice, a way of voting with her dollar for environmentally friendly farming, she said

"We're far from perfect consumers, we still buy that non-organic packet of biscuits or chocolate, but we buy organic versions whenever we can within our budget, and what's available on the shelves or through our local co-op," she said.

Eli Chadwick of Rotorua said he had been buying organic vegetables from a nearby farm for about nine months.

He said he liked the small carbon footprint and getting produce straight from farm to fridge. The quality of the food was also superior to supermarket produce, he said.

Aucklander, Philip Hurring, said he supported organic food producers because he believed they were more genuinely interested in producing natural, toxin free food that was "in alignment with the laws of nature".

It was a relationship based on trust, he said.

The global umbrella organisation for the organic movement, Ifoam, says globally, all organic regulations prohibit the use of GMOs in organic products.

Many select committee submissions argued there was already an internationally accepted definition of organic that could be plugged into the bill.

Philip Hurring says he buys organic food because it's healthier for his body and the planet.
Philip Hurring says he buys organic food because it's healthier for his body and the planet.

The bill aims to increase consumer confidence in buying organic products, increase certainty for businesses making claims that their products were organic, and encourage international trade in organic products.

Domestic and global demand for New Zealand organics saw the sector grow 30 per cent between 2015 and 2018 and was worth $600 million, according the 2018 Organics Aotearoa OANZ market report.

The research found 80 per cent of New Zealanders bought organic items at least every fortnight and sales of organic food were growing twice as fast as conventional food.

The global market in organics was worth US$97 billion (NZ$146b) in 2018, according to Organics International.

The global food market was worth US$7.5 trillion in 2020, with expected growth of about 3.6 per cent a year, according to Statista.

Chadwick said he had no philosophical objection to GMOs but didn't think they were compatible with organic.

"I think that could get distorted with badly worded legislation," he said.

Hurring said if the bill did not contain a definition of organic, it didn't qualify to be called the Organic Products Bill.

Flynn said a loose definition and the inclusion of genetically modified foods "would completely degrade the status of organic food".

But in a submission to the select committee, Life Sciences Network, a biotech lobby group, says that organic sales are based on "marketing trends and fashion", and so the bill should remain flexible in its approach to a definition.

Life Sciences Network chairman William Rolleston said the inclusion of GMOs should not be ruled out.

Flynn said being an organic consumer had nothing to do with fads or fashion.

"We often pay more, so you have to be passionate about it," she said.

Flynn and Hurring said if these concerns weren't addressed in the final bill, consumers would lose faith in it and look for organic food certified by other means, or would simply work to establish direct relationships with organic farmers.

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