Organic claims, such as “100% organic” or “made using organic ingredients”, are something that shoppers now see in most aisles of their local supermarket. Products labelled as organic generally attract a premium price compared to those produced using artificial fertiliser, pesticides and non-essential additives, so it’s important that consumers purchasing organic products should be able to feel confident that such claims are true.
A voluntary Australian Standard exists for growers and manufacturers wishing to label their products ‘organic’ and ‘biodynamic’ (AS 6000–2009 Organic and biodynamic products). This standard, a benchmark which organic accreditation bodies can meet to ensure consumer confidence, was developed and published in 2009.
AS 6000 is currently being revised and the revisions are open for public comment until 21 April 2015. Comment on the draft is invited from interested consumers, industry and organisations.
One of the main reasons the standard was developed was that there is no legal definition of ‘organic’ or biodynamic’ and in 2007 the ACCC (ACCC v GO Drew Pty Ltd) sought consent orders under the then Trade Practices Act to prevent the company labelling eggs as ‘organic’. At that time there were five or six organic standards in use in Australia. The Judge found, in effect, that at that time there was no general agreement on what inputs may be regarded as artificial or chemical and to be avoided in organic foods.
The present revision is to update:
Clauses 2.1 Farm and 2.2 Conversion of land which amends the length of time organic producers have to comply with the standard before they may label their product as ‘in-conversion’.
Clause 22.214.171.124 which has removed the sunset clause on using artificially produced amino acids in poultry feed. The organic industry has been unsuccessful in developing a natural feed that provides amino acids which are essential for the poultry’s health.
Clause 2.17 Livestock housing and Range Management has clarified the free range stocking density for laying hens and broilers and specifies that vegetative cover shall be provided to ensure that the birds leave their sheds.
Clause 2.22 Biodynamic production – Biodynamic production is is a production system based upon the principles established by Dr, Rudolf Steiner which enhances the continued development of the total farm concept where different grazing animals, crop rotation and recycling of organic waste is used in conjunction with specified biodynamic preparations aimed at improving the soil. This section of the standard has been rewritten for clarity and provide more detail of the preparations and their use.
AS 6000 is important to consumers in reducing the risk of purchasing produce and products incorrectly labelled as organic. Unfortunately some certifiers have been slow to move from their standards to AS 6000 which still creates the problem the ACCC found in the ACCC v Drew matter and is detrimental to consumers confidence that the produce or product is as described.
Misleading, false or deceptive organic claims are against the law. More information and how to make a complaint is available on the on the ACCC site.
John Furbank is the CFA representative on the Standards Australia Technical Committee FT-032 responsible for developing AS 6000 Organic and biodynamic products; CFA provides volunteer representatives on Standards Australia Technical Committees as part of the CFA Standards Project; if you are interested in finding out more about the Project and/or becoming a volunteerCFA Standards Representative please contact the Standards Coordinator at standards@consumeraction.