Coles dismisses complaint about weedy plant

Ornithogalum thyrsoides

Ornithogalum thyrsoides. Photo: Yakovlev Alexey

One of our supporters, Clinton Garrett, contacted us with  his attempts to ask Coles to stop selling a weedy plant at its stores in South Australia.

Clinton asked Coles to respond to the following inquiry:

I see that our local Coles supermarket is selling an Ornithogalum cultivar “Chesapeake Snowflake”.
It is drought resistant and like most of the genus will produce many bulbs. A different species Ornithogalum umbellatum is already an issue in the Murrumbuidgee area.
What assesment has been done of the weed potential of this cultivar? Should Coles and Bunnings be asked to stop selling this species?
I have real concerns about the potential for this species to colonise bushland as it is well suited to our climate.

Clinton attached information from Kersbrook Landcare describing Ornithogalum thyrsoides as “an emerging weed threat in the Adelaide Hills and Mt Lofty Ranges region”. They pointed out that it is a garden escapee that is  available in garden shops and as cut flowers.  He also included a reference to the Weeds of Australia database that described the plant as “highly invasive” in Western Australia.

In reply, on 8 November Coles said,

After receiving your email, we contacted our Merchandise Team who read your referenced information and wish to advise that the first is a fact sheet by the QLD Gov just on basic plant background and some notes. The information on this site has no jurisdiction in SA as it is produced by the QLD government, not SA and simply states ‘Chincherinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides) is regarded as an environmental weed in South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia’ but also does not mention it as a declared pest.

The second is a fact sheet by the Kersbrook Landcare Group which is a community run incorporated body formed by residents concerned about agriculture and environment that is battling the Ornithogalum thyrsoides in two reserves. It has one paragraph on the plant and even states “It is a garden escapee which is not yet declared and is still available in garden shops and as cut flowers.”

Neither of these sources is a viable reference for the weed status of Ornithogalum into SA.

We are confident that the product supplied to Edwardstown was within the legislative requirements of supply into SA.

Whilst we understand that you may remain unsatisfied with our response, we are unable to offer any further information regarding this matter.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us. We look forward to being of service to you in future.

Regards

Troy Agostino
CUSTOMER CARE CONTACT CENTRE

A clearly frustrated Clinton told us “these people have never spent hours in the field trying to eradicate a weed before it progresses beyond the point of control. They know the legal niceties which allow their company to make money and not much more.”

He later spoke to those familiar with Giles and Horsnell Gully Conservation Parks near Kersbrook and learnt that these areas are beyond salvation as the level of invasion by Ornithogalum thyrsoides is so high.

This issue highlights the lack of responsibility shown by some in the nursery industry and the failings of a prohibited list approach, which leaves most weeds unregulated. The Invasive Species Council advocates for a ‘safe list‘ approach that requires a systematic, risk-based and preventative approach to introduced plants.


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6 Responses to “Coles dismisses complaint about weedy plant”

  1. This is the typical corporate response when they adopt the “ostrich position”. Basically they are saying “we don’t want to know about it”. Quite frankly, I feel it is grossly unfair that the trade has virtual free reign and then leaves the bloody mess for volunteers and cash poor government departments to clean up after the trend has past. Its unfair, always has been, and needs to stop,. The conservative approach to garden plant use needs to apply.
    It wasn’t that long ago when I sat with the garden industry officials and they argued that English Broom should not be taken off their sale lists. We have a long way to go, even though there has been a lot of progress in recent times. The stance of Coles is simply “not good enough” .

  2. Bob Holderness-Roddam 22 December, 2013 at 5:34 am

    I agree – direct heat on corporates can be effective.

  3. I would think that this is the perfect case for starting an online petition (such as through change.org) to extract some corporate responsibility from Coles and Bunnings, seeing that they are unwilling to act on moral grounds!

  4. I would like to draw your attention to the statements Coles makes on its Corporate Responsibility page of their web-site, a topic they claim to take very seriously-they say ” Coles is committed to reducing our impact on the environment, and we’re constantly exploring and investing in important environmental projects and partnerships to further achieve this goal. We’re striving to enhance our environment and leave a better world for future generations of Australians”. This sentiment obviously does not extend to taking responsibility for the long term degradation of Australia’s environment by assisting in the distribution of an invasive pest plant. I will be writing to Coles to ask for an explanation of this seeming contradiction between sentiment and action. Tom Hands.

  5. Some considerations that seem to have been overlooked here.
    The species Ornithogalum thyrsoides Jacq. is indeed a weed in Western Australia. It is also legal to sell there and WA does operate with a permitted list approach. If any other state decided to use a permitted list approach then they would more than likely add this species to the permitted list as well.
    Why?
    Because the only alternative is to make the species a declared or noxious weed and generally declaring widely available species like Ornithogalum thyrsoides is not going to achieve anything and could in fact be counter productive, drawing funds away from more significant species.
    A permitted list approach means that every species in that state or region needs to have a legal status and its impossible to declare every single weed as some people would like, it would achieve nothing.
    When using a permitted list approach you need to strategize carefully and only declare those species that are significant or potentially significant threats where you can actually achieve something for whatever limited funding is available.

    In the reality of weed management you can never play a perfect game.

    I can understand Clinton’s frustration but Coles and Bunnings are indeed not doing anything wrong.
    But do remember that corporate consciences are often molded by exposure to public opinion, so its always worth a letter.

    • A permitted or safe list approach does not mean you have to spend resources on tackling that species. If a plant is not listed on the permitted list, that plant cannot be sold in plant nurseries. With little effort you have slowed or prevented a potential weed spreading into new bushland areas from urban gardens.

      The permitted list approach is very different from the approach we are usually accustomed to: where only the worst weeds are listed and, once listed, it triggers a range of management actions. Where management actions are costly or difficult, this can create a reluctance to list.