Tag Archives: government

Can This Farmer Defeat Monsanto?

Article on The Safe food Foundation Website

Lately, genetically manipulated (GM) food has been a widely covered subject in the media in Australia and around the World. As with all agricultural practices, health and safety must be first priority when making decisions on how our farmland should be cultivated and GM is no different. There are many reasons to investigate what GM in our food supply will mean in relation to health and safety but these are not the only calls for possible concern. Lest we forget, our freedom of choice is compromised by GM when such crops run rampant and contamination is uncontrolled. When GM crops are grown next to non-GM crops we often see issues of contamination. This contamination may be due to many factors including human error, wind, birds, bees and floods and can result in a widespread and unintentional cultivation of GM crops. Allowing such contamination to continue means the loss of a farmer’s right to grow what they choose and the consumer’s choice to purchase and consume GM-free foods. To accept the takeover of our farmland by patented, corporate-owned seeds is to take the land from the farmers and the people and willing give it to the corporations.

In the farming community of Kojonup, WA, organic farmer Steve Marsh is taking a stand against GM contamination. In 2010, the WA state government lifted the moratorium on GM canola, opening up the state’s agricultural sector to the cultivation of this GM crop for the first time. As a result of this change in policy many farmers, including Marsh’s next door neighbour, began growing GM canola. After a high wind, one day Steve found GM canola dried plants spread over much of his farm, loaded with dry seed falling off onto his land. Consequently, Steve lost his organic certification when the certifying body, NASAA (The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia) found 70 percent of his property had been contaminated with GM canola.

As a result of the contamination, Steve and his family are no longer able to sell their product on the organic market and have lost a great deal of their income. It’s shocking to think we live in a world where corporations are often free from responsibility in relation to their products infringing the rights of others. However, due to the liability agreement Monsanto has farmers sign, the corporate giant is ‘off the hook’ when it comes to cases of contamination. Thus, Australia is set to see the first case of an organic farmer proactively seeking compensation from a GM farmer when his rights have been violated by a biotech invasion. This is something that Steve does not want to do but he has no other option if he wants to stand up for his rights as well as ours. Due to inadequate labeling, often the only way to eat foods free from GM is to eat organic. This makes Steve’s case and the contamination of the organic industry an issue beyond labeling. Once our organic food supply is contaminated, reading a label won’t make a difference because ALL food will contain GM!

So instead of accepting this adulteration of his farmland, Steve has taken a stand against the invasion of genetically modified crops. In an unprecedented case, Steve is taking his neighbour to court for compensation of loss and damages. The international law firm of Slater & Gordon has taken on the case under their public interest policy (good on them!) but that does not entirely relieve the financial stress of this case as there will be a great deal of disbursements in fighting such a legal battle. Money is needed for barristers, court costs and expert witnesses and this is expected to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For more information about Steve Marsh and this precedent-setting case against GM and food contamination, please visit The Safe Food Foundation.

Labelling Laws – Still waiting for action while consumers confused and local manufacturers and growers are undermined

When the Senate Enquiry into “Truth in Labelling” was undertaken in October 2009 there was some hope that Australians would finally see where their products come from even though the label says “Made in Australia”, even though at the time most industry groups rejected the concept. While the Senate has rejected “Made in Australia” the key issue then and now in AUSBUY’s submission was the need for Country of Origin. This has now been recognised. Now the work really begins. Let’s hope our industries and our farmers can hold on long enough.

Labels are complicated. They are also costly to replace for manufacturers already under cost pressure. While discussions have been consumer focused, the suppliers also need to be considered, especially those locally owned businesses whose ethic is to source from Australian farmers and suppliers whenever possible. Of course Australia does not produce every ingredient, but then not all ingredients are cited on a tin of pears or more complicated sauces etc.  “Made in Australia” infers products are sourced here. Local and imported confuse the issue further.

Change cannot be avoided as the source of our foods are increasingly complicated by our Free Trade Agreements, high dollar and virtual open door policy to imports. To their credit Coles and Woolworths manage “Country of origin” reasonably well on their private label brands. They may be replacing locally made and grown foods because our businesses cannot compete on price against cheap imports, but at least consumers have a choice to avoid imported foods, even if they are made here because the label tells them the source.

Some consumers in sheer frustration use bar codes when they shop. The problem is the 93 barcode for Australia means the company has a registered office here and may be foreign owned and imported.

In the meantime AUSBUY has attended many meetings and discussions where the various sides had their say (or did not). Many meetings were chaired with a pre-determined outcome, so discussion appeared to be superfluous. Or the issues were so complex that Senators where clearly bamboozled having had no industry experience of the complexities. No need for this as the experts were in the room, time was limited and an outcome expected.

As AUSBUY has highlighted in the past, if the intent is misplaced then the action is misplaced, and without a clear objective it is easy to sustain inertia when confusion reigns. Few see the bigger picture or acknowledge the consequences. You guessed it, after more than four years the announcement this week on “made in Australia” is no action as the Senate rejected. The changes do not go far enough. We can only hope it does not take another four years to get an outcome that benefits Australia.

The food sector is the largest manufacturing sector we have left where there is a spread of businesses across our communities and regions sourcing from local farmers. Many small businesses drive the innovation in the food sector. These are the businesses that “value-add’ our commodities – but we have stopped talking about “value adding” and control of the supply chain and key industries.

In the past four years we have seen multinationals take over more local brands, farms bought because on farm income has been in decline for decades, commodity industries such as dairy, fruit and vegetable growers under threat, or factories close here and move off shore to sell back to us. No one has counted the cost to our manufacturers and growers as imported foods replace local produce and still carry the “Made in Australia” label as long as it meets the 51% test of substantial transformation (including packaging costs). For a country that prides itself on our agriculture we have no major global brands since Fosters was sold.

The issue is from “where”. We have signed Free Trade Agreements with countries that do not reciprocate opportunities as our exports incur tariffs (USA, EU), open our doors to countries that do not meet our standards, or imports that bring the threat of disease when we have under-resourced our gatekeepers AQIS and Bio-Security Australia. Diseases are being introduced to our once clean, green growing environment via the back door and the front door.

Ask our orange growers. We cannot take foods across state borders but import foods that do not meet our standards, yet oranges from overseas compete in the same growing season at the same price as our local produce. These activities are hidden in processed foods. At least we have “Country of Origin” on fresh produce, championed by AUSBUY over a decade ago. But again this is not policed at local and state levels, except where big supermarkets err.

Then there is the seasonality of food. If manufacturers want to sustain their production line the excuse is to import out of season. Whatever we can do to support our local manufacturers and growers and give priority to their sustainability the better. Labelling laws are important, but only part of the problems facing our essential industries. AUSBUY’s focus is on informed consumers and working with manufacturers and growers,  but then we only represent Australian owned businesses so our message is not compromised.

Australian Companies Institute Limited (AUSBUY) is a not for profit organisation representing Australian owned businesses exclusively since 1991. Interviews can be arranged.  Lynne Wilkinson 02 9437 5455 0418 3149 23

Intent: How to Get What You Wish For

“While intent is the seed of manifestation, action is the water that nourishes the seed. Your actions must reflect your goals in order to achieve true success. INTENT reveals desire; ACTION reveals commitment.”  Steve Maraboli

In our topsy-turvy world it is useful to be reminded how we evaluate the information overload which forms our opinions, and how we as individuals and groups respond to these.

Have you ever experienced the “ah ha!” factor? In recent months there have been several occasions where I have seen both the good and bad in our changing world, and, while not necessarily directly related to business and trade, these helped put into context what ACIL (AUSBUY) does and why we do it and to observe the intent of others. So I invite you to consider what the word “intent” means to you, to determine the “intent” of your own decisions, and observe those given responsibility to make them on our behalf. We appreciate that change happens. We can adapt to it, be part of it and even lead it. However the “intent” of those driving the change needs to be better understood.

Firstly, I was in a meeting where the leaders espoused a particular outcome before a vote that would mean a change in the organisation’s voting rights, and give a greater voice to its members. Robust discussion ensued from representatives both for and against change before a wide audience and those entitled to vote. Representatives of the non- voters, were seated separately. While the leaders espoused the same intent to change the rules to allow a plebiscite, the approach taken in the meeting to achieve the result did not reference their shared intent – a stronger, engaged organisation. In discussions both sides showed aggression. The only way was their way. Points of law and a limited time frame distracted and even confused the worthy adjudicator and the people asked to vote.

“The most important distinction between aggression and assertion is the intention. During assertion, we move ourselves toward another; during aggression, we move ourselves against another.” Georgia Lanoil

The end result was when voting took place – you guessed it – no change. Better the devil you know rather than something new. What got in the way of achieving the shared values and outcome? The intent was honourable, but the actions by some parties on both sides much less so. There was little time for “reason” and questions about the consequences of the proposed changes, although much had been written and distributed to the voters. There was no time given to make people accountable for their positions or vested interests. Innuendo is not a good basis for decisions. And this was a meeting of highly educated people. It would appear wisdom cannot be assumed or translated in a group where vested interests have louder voices.

“A fraudulent intent, however carefully concealed at the outset, will generally, in the end, betray itself”. Titus Livius

The second “ah ha!” was when AUSBUY took a petition to Canberra for the last sitting week of Parliament in late 2012. Eight politicians from both Houses and all Parties supported the petition asking for a moratorium on the sale of our wealth creating assets and our land until we have a national interest test. In a year where confrontation and discord seemed to be the order of the day, this was an issue which united these political representatives to stand beside us. What has happened in the subsequent period is that the issue of the “national interest” is talked about without discussion or reference, while back room deals are done to sell off our wealth creating assets for the short term fix. Organisations representing Australian owned interests are rarely invited to the table. However it says a lot about the politicians who supported AUSBUY and does give some hope that their “intent” is in our interests.

The third “ah ha!” occasion was orchestrated by a recent AUSBUY Corporate Member, Aussie Farmers Direct, at the opening of their new distribution facility in Melbourne. The “intent” of the function reflected the principles of the business. State and Federal representatives attended, indigenous Australians performed welcome to country, and local school children sang the national anthem. Suppliers and franchisees were integral to the team effort. While these activities might be “must haves” for local businesses, the “intent” to engage with and empower people is evident in the way in which the business was established, and is lead and structured. This is a business with a long term plan based on engagement, shared values, creating an environment for people to operate at their best and giving back.

AUSBUY recently launched a Builders and Makers Campaign where the key issues that they share no matter what the industry are: long term plan; short term adaptation to market conditions; innovation; product or service integrity, value their people and manage them accordingly, perseverance and resilience; reinvestment here. Their “intent” gives meaning to what they do and is reflected in the integrity and quality of goods and services that they produce.

While we see change all around us and much of it is taken out of our control, we can assert our intentions and lead the change rather than be caught in the maelstrom. It is about empowerment and choice. Our future should be in our hands.

“We call an intention good which is right in itself, but the action is good, not because it contains within it some good, but because it issues from a good intention.” Peter Abelard