Sutton Waikato Soil And Health Association Speech
Hon Jim Sutton
Waikato Soil And Health Association Speech:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me to speak with you tonight.
Organics are definitely flavour of the year! New markets are springing up and earnings – particularly export earnings - are growing.
In 1991, the output of the organics industry was estimated at $1.1 million, a fraction of which was exported. The domestic organic market last year was estimated to be at least $32.5 million last year.
Exports alone have grown from $6 million in 1994 to $12 million in 1995. It has been estimated that export earnings from organic produce will reach $65 million by 2002, if not sooner.
Organic growers have had great successes. Organic produce generally sells for higher prices than conventionally grown produce.
There is growing demand, from consumers concerned that food production seems less natural and, by extension, less healthy than it used to be.
Some farmers are doing nicely out of growing it for manufacturers catering for this demand, such as Heinz-Watties. Good on them.
There are whole supermarkets in Britain and the United States where everything sold is tagged "organic". The more you can sell into markets like that, the better - particularly with our dollar in the state it currently is.
The Government is doing what it can to help, where appropriate.
Organics are a thriving commercial activity now and organic farmers need to function commercially. That's where the Government comes in, and departments such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
During the past year, a lot of work has been done to protect our exports of organic food products against the possibility of trade barriers and punitive tariffs.
Both the European Union and Japan have passed legislation that requires "official" government or government-backed certification that foods claiming to be organic have in fact been produced in accordance with the appropriate organic standards.
New Zealand’s organic produce exports to the European Union are currently accompanied by assurances issued by organisations approved by individual Member States within the European Union under a “derogation” provided for in their regulations. That situation can continue till 2005.
However, after this time, New Zealand’s exports of organic produce to the European Union must be accompanied by an official assurance issued by the New Zealand government.
Under this programme MAF Food as the “competent authority” will be issuing official government to government assurances for consignments of organic product.
Certification of farms or operators for compliance to the relevant organic standard will continue to be done by Third Party Agencies, approved by MAF Food.
MAF Food is hopeful that the Third Country Listing process will have been completed in time for the official programme to commence in March 2001. Once MAF Food’s official programme is approved by the EC, New Zealand’s organic produce will be able to enter all Member States without the requirement for individual “derogations” to be issued, provided of course that the produce is accompanied by a MAF Food official organic assurance.
The MAF programme has been designed so that other market requirements can be readily accommodated, should other countries require organic produce to be accompanied by a Government assurance in the future.
Parliament's primary production select committee is also studying the organic industry and I look forward to its report.
The Government also allocated money in the Budget to help promote organic farming methods to farmers. Organic farming has specific requirements which farmers need to take into consideration when they choose to adopt one of the three domestic organic standards we have in New Zealand.
It is not an easy choice or an inexpensive choice, particularly with a three-year transition period before organic premiums can be charged on produce.
A group of officials and organic group representatives has been formed and is steadily working its way through a range of issues affecting the organics sector.
As well as supporting that work, the Government also has supported organic agriculture by funding research. Through the Public Good Science Fund, the Government has invested more than $18 million in the past financial year in research directly relevant to organic farming.
The establishment of the Sustainable Farming Fund is also good news for organic growers. This fund is part of the Labour-Alliance coalition government's commitment to rural communities and their well-being.
The fund, more than $5 million this year and planned to increase in future years, is to help communities work out which projects would help them best. For example, rather than fund anti-erosion schemes, grants from the fund could be used to pay for feasibility studies to ascertain whether it was worth it for the community to put its money into such schemes.
The fund is complementary to other Government initiatives, particularly the regional development strategy and the environmental programmes underway.
Before the election, I said Labour would boost funding for sustainable land management initiatives. Now the Labour-Alliance coalition government is delivering on that promise.
In closing, I want to emphasis the Labour-Alliance coalition government's commitment to promoting sustainable land management, integrated pest management, with safe agrichemical use in conventional agriculture, biological controls, and organic production, through support for education, research, marketing and labelling initiatives.
I am sure exports of organic foods will continue to rise to meet demand where it exists in international markets and that there will be growth to supply the domestic market as well.
Organic farmers are at a disadvantage at present because you are scattered throughout New Zealand and have only a loose network to provide advice and mentoring. There is also division amongst the adherents to the various standards.
From a processor's point of view, the critical mass issue can be problematic. They need to know they can get hold of enough products to supply the demand and to supply it regularly.
In addition, all food producers in New Zealand have a responsibility to grow safe food for our consumers, both local and international. This applies to organics as well.
By selling a safe, premium product, you do your country proud. This government is here to support you as much as possible.