Wednesday, December 26, 2007

NZ Herald 7 July 2000 Organics What does it mean?

Organically grown. What on earth does that mean! According to my Chambers dictionary, organic means a) containing carbon; b) pertaining to an organ (in any sense); c) instrumental; d) organised; e) structural as in the etymological structure of a word.

Its meaning nowadays conveys a vague idea that it means ‘food grown without man-made chemicals’.

Scientifically speaking, organics as currently practised under western standards, raises many questions about land sustainability, animal welfare and also about food safety. If your children got nits or worms, you’d treat them, wouldn’t you?

Those questions apart, ‘organic’ as a brand name for New Zealand food exports quite honestly stinks. It’s used willy nilly by all kinds of producers in many countries. How much trust do consumers really have in it? And how much will they trust it in the future as everyone gets on the bandwagon?

As a farmer I don’t have much faith in ‘organics’ at all. Particularly as a brand on our products heading overseas..

Yes the principles are great - that’s what New Zealand has built its good name on - producing with hardly any artificial aids. The thing is, we already have an established brand, and what’s more we own it, which means no-one else can degrade it.

It’s NZ Natural, or Naturally New Zealand, or any phrase that includes NZ. This is our established brand world wide.. Let’s face it Naturally NZ is unequivocal: it means all the images of NZ that have been built up over 120 years of exporting.

It’s no accident that our meat and dairy products are the cleanest anywhere - our customers demanded it over the years. The blood sweat and tears of complying with USDA and EU regulations have paid off in the reputation which we have built up.

Further, the last five years have seen a much closer relationship between customers and individual companies meaning their demands have been built into our systems, such as Alliance Group’s Farm Assurance Programme.. Traceability is the key. Every movement of animals on and off farm is recorded, every farm is audited and expected to record every remedy used such as worm drench. Codes of animal welfare, of fertiliser application, of health and safety are widely applied.

This has been accomplished in a relatively pain free way for farmers but is a huge leap forward for our marketing people, who are now grappling with the extraordinary global buying power of the continually merging supermarket sector. Their demands will continue to evolve but by the price and demand exhibited for our lamb in particular, it seems they are satisfied with the standard of food safety, animal welfare and environmental sustainability expressed in the New Zealand brand.

Those who are enthusiastically embracing the concept of ‘organics’ right now are motivated by the right sentiments but haven’t perhaps appreciated the strength of the the reputation we have, and that the commercial reality of the alternative doesn’t stack least one supermarket megacorp has already announced price-levelling for all organic and non-organic produce.

Put together the commercial realities with the serious scientific questions over such practices as ploughing vs zero-tilling, it makes more sense to continue down the track of following best practice, building our wholesome and uniquely New Zealand reputation, than by attempting to rebrand our products with such a fragile generic name as ‘organic’.

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