The price of organic: Peer-review mooted as cost-cutter

Cicia Island is home to just one thousand people, but it’s hoping to make a dent on the international organic market.

佛山桑拿

People on this Fijian Island say it’s a paradise untouched by tourism, industry and chemicals.

In 2006, they banned the use of fertilizers, and last year, it was officially declared an organic island.

Epeli Dranidalo is the Chairman of the island’s traditional council – he says it’s about securing the future of the next generations.

“This this is the best way to create a path for our children”, he says, “to follow where they will find peace and prosperity.”

Organic virgin coconut oil is just one local product with a huge potential to sell globally..

 

But buyers wanted external certification, so products are independently confirmed to be organic.  

With a pricetag in excess of $25,000 a year – certificates were out of the question for these small, remote producers.

Peer-reviewed organic

So the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community joined forces with the UN. coming up with a peer review system.

The co-ordinating officer –  Karen Mapusua – says she’s confident it will satisfy the consumer.

‘I think the biggest question of consumers is whether I can trust the label or not”, the POET officer says.

“But when you think about it, our highest level of science and medicine are all peer reviews. If you are doing a scientific study it will be peer-reviewed. So we trust that to science, we trust it to medicine. I think we can also trust it to farmers.”

“Certification is actually really hard to get. We wouldn’t even get it simply because our neighbours next door to us actually spray”

Farmers and producers are required to keep detailed records, meeting every two weeks to ensure the rules are being followed.

A New Zealand company has just signed up to be their first major organic buyer, while an exporter to South Korea has also come to see the certification process in action.

Karen Mapusua is hopeful it’s the start of big things for the Island.

“It was a big breakthrough”, she says happily.

“It could really fundamentally change organic certification and opportunities for growers in the Pacific.”

Australian producers mull certification difficulties

There are now similar trials in five Pacific countries, and it’s highlighting how produce is certified here in Australia

Farmers who want to be “organically” certified must comply with strict regulations.

Greg Newell from Linga Longa Farm at  Wingham on the News South Wales mid north coast  is a certified pasture-fed cattle farmer.

“All our customers want to be connected with the farmer and know the ethics of how the animal’s been raised and how the animals been treated”, he tells SBS.

“Everything at the moment I sort of think is derived around revenues. To actually help Australian producers, organic statutus and all these titles need to be wiped.”

“We work on the whole system where it is conception to consumption and we can tell you everything about the animal from when it was born, to how it was treated, to the end use and the person who eats the product … which is very, very important to customers these days.”

Adrienne Carlson from Carlson’s Handcrafted uses certified growers to ensure she makes the best preserves and cordials she can.

She’s happy to pay for more for knowing exactly how the ingredients have been produced.

 “They’ve got to meet very stringent standards, they’ve got to be audited, inspected so you can rest assured if someone is certified organic”, Carlson says.

“That means they don’t use pesticides, they look after their land, they look after the soil and all of their storage practices and pest control has to be done in a certain way.”

Some farmers – likeTroy Annakin from Kemps Creek Farm – says the system’s cost and complexity makes their work difficult, even though they’re committed to producing chemical-free food.

“Certification is actually really hard to get. We wouldn’t even get it simply because our neighbours next door to us actually spray”, Annakin explains.

“The tiny little wind drift that may bring the chemical across – for that reason we wouldn’t be able to get it. We just choose to prefer not to use any chemicals or pesticides – plus it makes it cheaper for the customer too because if you’re certified, the certification costs a lot of money.”

Greg Dixon from Capertee Valley Saffron agrees – saying the system is a hindrance, rather than a help, to producers who support organic methods.

“Everything at the moment I sort of think is derived around revenues. To actually help Australian producers, organic statutus and all these titles need to be wiped.”

“The government (needs to) step in and help the producer do what they need to do.”