Australia is following a boom that is transforming the way people eat all over the world. Global organic production is expanding at the rate of 10-15 percent a year – making it the fastest growing food sector.
The Australian organic food industry is coming from a very small base. Despite this, the signs are emerging that it is experiencing especially strong growth and that it will rapidly catch up with the US and the UK, who are leaders in the $50 billion global organics market. Growth projections for the Australian industry are suggesting 20-30 percent per annum.
The number of certified organic operators in Australia has been growing at a rate of approximately 70 percent a year over the past five years. Between 2000 and 2003 the number grew approximately 200 percent from 850 to 2500.
This increase in organic food production is not all destined for the Australian domestic market. Approximately 40 percent is destined for the export market.
Australian consumers are becoming increasingly complex in their decision making and they have greater choices. Organic food is seen as a ‘must’ because of consumers’ greater concern about food safety, convenience, the environment, and genetically modified organisms.
The development of the Australian National Standards for the production of organic food and a quality assurance system guaranteeing the organic source of the produce, have been key factors in building consumer demand. The Organic Federation of Australia predicts total retail sales of organic produce and groceries could reach $1 billion by 2006.
The growth in consumer demand that is supported by the Australian National Standards is driven by people concerned about the safety of the food their family is consuming, amid increasing reports of the effects of conventionally grown fruit and vegetables on our health.
There is growing concern about the potential long-term effects of chronic, low-level exposure to the combinations of chemicals in non-organic food and in the air and water as a result of chemical farming practices. Research findings support a change to organic as the only sensible way to go – not just for our own health but for the health of the entire ecosystem in which we live.
Concern about the toxic effects of chemical farming is not new. The 1960s saw a rise in concern, and action to stop chemical food production. Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring (1962) said:
‘For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death.’
The situation is far worse today than in the 1960s. Governments around the world, including Australia, approve for sale and use, a wide variety of agricultural chemicals, despite uncertainty over their interactions with other chemicals in everyday life. Most of these leave residues in our food, either as a compound, or of their breakdown substances. Chemical testing for toxicity cannot provide any guarantees of the safety of chemicals due to science’s limited knowledge of ecosystems, low-level adverse effects, and of cumulative and combined effects.