By Alice Sinclair, produced for online by Jessica Riga

Australia’s organic growers and wholesalers are fighting the Federal Government after they were left in the lurch following a proposal for compulsory chemical treatments on imported seeds.

The proposed reforms include imposing mandatory fungicide treatments on imported seeds in the brassica family, including popular dinnertime favourites such as broccoli and cauliflower.

Frances and Jeff Michaels, owners of Queensland organic supply business Green Harvest, say they support biosecurity measures, but argue the negotiations leading to the draft reforms left the organics industry in the dark and excluded from the conversation.

“There is an enormous value in having organic seed available to growers, I applaud the efforts the government makes to tighten our bio security. I feel the failure here has been that as part of the working group their outline was never intended to consider the organic industry and where it fits into their decision making process,” Ms Michaels says.

The couple aren’t alone in their plight, with their petition against the reforms attracting over 30,000 signatures.

Mrs Michaels says without fungi, which is important for soil fertility and seed growth, large plumes of dust can result.

She says large scale fungicidal treatment can have unintended long lasting effects.

“A lot of modern, biological science around growing is based upon using fungi in effective ways and unfortunately these systemic fungicide treatments have very good research saying that not only do they stay in the seed and therefore in the plant leaf part as the plant grows, they also stay in the soil and impact the beneficial life of the soil far longer than anyone would decide is desirable.”

The organics industry says the Government needs to include them more in the decision making process.
The organics industry says the Government needs to include them more in the decision making process.

The Department of Agriculture told the ABC the report was prompted as a result of a review into Australia’s biosecurity risks, which discovered two fungal pathogens raising quarantine concerns.

Mrs Michaels says the government has pledged to work with the organic industry to consider equivalent non-chemical alternatives however implementation of alternatives raises further concerns for growers.

“What you’ll get is industry, and anyone who doesn’t want to introduce systemically fungicide treated seeds into their growing areas or backyard gardens, seeing that not just that the research exist or the science exists saying that these alternatives are possible, but them actually in place and available in Australia.”

Brisbane Organic Growers President Bruce Ham says he understands the importance of protecting Australia’s agricultural industry from quarantine threats and is not overly concerned by the regulations.

He considers domestic seed growers could eventually reap the benefits of regulating imported seeds.

“On the flip side, the organic seed growers in Australia will get a bit of a lift up.”

Organic shopper Patricia Kelly says she thinks consumers should be made aware of the presence of any chemicals in their produce.

“As someone who prefers to buy organic fruit and vegetables when they are available, I would actually like more transparency with regards to this because you want to know what’s being sprayed on your fruit and veggies. If there is an alternative, even if it is a bit more expensive, I think people would be willing to pay a little bit more just to know it’s a safe alternative.”