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‘Sustainable Standards’? How Organic Standards in the EU and Australia Affect Local and Global Agrifood Production and Value Chains

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Food Security in Australia

Abstract

As production processes become more globalized, the impact of public and private standards can reach far beyond nation–state borders. This is the case, as in the area of food standards, where market regions set standards that have to be followed and met by producers and manufacturers in locations all over the world. The effects of this development reach from improved production processes (e.g. environmentally or regarding worker protection) on the one hand, to an exclusion of large numbers of potential producers (e.g. smallholder farmers in developing countries) on the other. There has also been discussion on the impacts of these standards on global and local food security.

By the example of two national organic standards systems with differing regulatory implications, the European Union (EU) (legally mandatory certification) and Australian (voluntary certification), this chapter aims to give an insight into the impacts and significance of these standards in (international) trade coordination, which key drivers are behind their implementation, and which positive but also challenging consequences can arise for the affected actors along the organic value chain at different geographical locations. With special focus on the sustainability potential of these standards for local and global agrifood systems and the potential contribution of organic agriculture to food security, it is shown that (1) while organic standards explicitly prescribe more environmentally friendly farming and production methods, there is scope for further research which scientifically proves its long-term sustainability and contribution to food security, (2) government regulation is important to promote the growth of sustainable certified organic food systems, and (3) there is need for further mutual recognition of standards worldwide to reduce exclusion of suppliers from developing countries.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For food standards, see also e.g. literature summarized in Higgins et al. (2010).

  2. 2.

    These include, respectively, e.g. mad cow disease, swine flu, dioxin, E. coli contamination, and the discussion around whaling and oil leakages.

  3. 3.

    For example 1986: National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA); more followed in the 1990s/2000s; the peak body Organic Federation of Australia (OFA) was founded in 1997.

  4. 4.

    The past two centuries of European settlement have caused considerable ecological damage through the introduction of alien flora and fauna, unfavourable climatic conditions including drought and flooding, and habitat destruction from extensive tree clearing and urbanization. In combination with relatively infertile soils and inadequate farming methods, these factors have led to land degradation by soil erosion, salinity and deforestation.

  5. 5.

    See Higgins et al., 2010 for a case on Environmental Management Standards in the Australian dairy industry.

  6. 6.

    Generally speaking, very few standards are actually mandated in Australia, the general approach being to leave the market to regulate itself and only interfere when obvious market failure can be observed.

  7. 7.

    Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’. (World Food Summit 1996 in Halberg et al., 2009) Four dimensions of food security are defined as: food availability, food access, food stability, food utilization.

  8. 8.

    This latter view is interesting in so far as that (a) productivist agricultural practices (as found e.g. in Europe, Australia or the US) have been shown to include a broader set of practices that are ‘widely recognized as environmentally damaging and probably unsustainable in the long term’ (Andrée et al., 2010; Dibden & Cocklin, 2005, 2009), and (b) that organic standards, both in the EU as well as in Australia, have the explicit objectives to be sustainable. They accordingly prescribe detailed farming practices aiming to improve environmental management. These include, for instance, rules on biodiversity, landscape-, soil- and water management, plant protection and livestock husbandry.

  9. 9.

    There are still variations between the organic standards held by major economies with a high organic market share worldwide and mutual acceptance is still not always given.

  10. 10.

    Recent years have also shown the establishment of purely organic supermarket chains, such as basic or Alnatura in Germany.

  11. 11.

    Certifiers are accredited by Government authorities. In most European countries, certifiers are private, nongovernmental businesses that are independent of standard-setting (organic farmers’) associations. In Australia, many organic farmers associations are simultaneously standard developers/holders and certifiers of these standards (or have subsidiaries).

  12. 12.

    Currently accepted are the EC-Eco-regulation, USA National Organic Programme (USA NOP), Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Taiwan and New Zealand; as well as the IFOAM group of standards.

  13. 13.

    Some studies show that this may not apply to such a degree to noncertified organic farming on the local level for own consumption e.g. in developing countries.

  14. 14.

    United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

  15. 15.

    See Dibden, Higgins, & Cocklin (2011) for a discussion of the harmonization down-process in the context of the Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Agreement (SPSA) as part of World Trade Organization measures.

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Acknowledgements

This paper is based on work supported by the German Research Foundation under the research project ‘ImPOrt’. I am grateful for the constructive feedback of one anonymous reviewer, as well as for support received by Boris Braun, Peter Dannenberg and Paul Kristiansen.

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Correspondence to Amelie Bernzen .

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Bernzen, A. (2013). ‘Sustainable Standards’? How Organic Standards in the EU and Australia Affect Local and Global Agrifood Production and Value Chains. In: Farmar-Bowers, Q., Higgins, V., Millar, J. (eds) Food Security in Australia. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-4484-8_19

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