At the request of the organic industry, the Australian government sought to establish a national organic standard for production and export marketing. In 1991, the AQIS national standard for organic and biodynamic produce was established and remains the basis for today’s Australian Certified Organic Standard. At that time 491 Australian food producers gained organic certification.
Organic farming in Australia can trace its origins back to the late 1920s, although the term was not used until 1940. The first organic farming society in the world was formed here in 1944, but organic practices did not receive mainstream support from the agricultural sector. From the 1960s interest in organic farming gradually increased, gaining pace in the 1980s. In the early 1980s, there were a number of organisations that operated independently. However, the organic farming movement had no united voice.
Initially, organic produce was chiefly available through organic cooperatives, box schemes and buying groups that distributed organic food. Specialty “wholefood” shops also focused on produce grown without agricultural chemicals. Farmers’ markets later became an important way for growers to sell their produce. In the mid-1980s conventional supermarkets in the UK began to experiment with some organic lines.
In the 1990s organics exploded and the big supermarket chains such as Coles and Woolworths began to stock organic fruit and vegetables. In 1990, the retail organic market was estimated at AUS$39 million while data from the certifying organisations put the total farmgate value of organic production in 2000/01 at AUS$89 million.
The increasing demand for organic produce saw a demand for organic certification. As organic produce typically was more expensive than conventionally grown foods, this was seen as a measure to protect both consumers and growers. The supermarkets now demand certification from organic growers.