Organic standards are not regulated standards – they are marketing criteria to differentiate organic farming from all other farming practices.
The Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce (AS6000:2009) and the National Standard for Organic and Bio-dynamic Produce in Australia do not permit any level of GM material in a product that meets its certification criteria. This position contrasts with that in the EU (0.9%) and with the US Department of Agriculture National Organic Program (USDA NOP), which does not specify an exact threshold for the presence of GM material. The US prefers to use a process-based approach.
In its April 2011 Policy Memo 11–13 (PDF), USDA Agricultural Marketing Service NOP states:
“Organic certification is process-based. That is, certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices which meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the NOP regulations. The NOP regulations prohibit the use of excluded methods (i.e., “GMOs”) in organic operations. If all aspects of the organic production or handling process were followed correctly, then the presence of a detectable residue from a genetically modified organism alone does not constitute a violation of this regulation. This policy was established at the promulgation of the NOP Regulation in the Preamble to the Final Rule (FR Vol. 65, No. 246, p. 80556), December 21, 2000. The preamble states:
As long as an organic operation has not used excluded methods and takes reasonable steps to avoid contact with the products of excluded methods as detailed in their approved organic system plan, the unintentional presence of the products of excluded methods should not affect the status of the organic operation or its organic products.”
The trade body representing organic agriculture globally, The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) states in this IFOAM-GE-Position that:
“Organic certification shall not imply it is a ‘GE-free’ certification. Rather it shall be presented as guaranteeing ‘production without GE/GMOs’. As there is no guarantee that organic products are 100% free…Organic producers and associations shall actively inform the consumers of this fact to insure fair marketing claims and to avoid future debates about consumer deception.”
Organic Produce and Australian Consumers
The disparity between these threshold levels and the marketing criteria being enforced by certifiers in Australia represents an inconsistency that ultimately impacts not only farmers like Steve Marsh and Mick Baxter, but Australian consumers as well.
Products certified as organic under EU or US standards are recognised by the Department of Agriculture, the government department ultimately responsible for securing biosecurity in Australia, as conforming to the Australian Organic Standard and may be freely imported into Australia. In the interest of fairness and integrity of Australian organic production, this inconsistency should be addressed.