Unless the draft Standard is adopted into legislation, very
little will change.
Perhaps surprisingly the use of the word "organic" is
not explicitly regulated in Australia. Whether an
"organic" claim is permissible will depend upon whether
or not that claim is misleading and deceptive, in accordance with
sections 52 and 53 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
While there is no strict legal definition of the word
"organic" there are a number of standards that a court or
regulator would likely take into account when determining whether
an organic claim was misleading and deceptive. The first is
AQIS' National Standard for Organic and Bio-Dynamic Produce ,
with which exported products are currently required to comply. The
second is standards used by private organic certification bodies.
These standards are used by the certification organisations in
administering their certification schemes. Examples of such
certification schemes include Australian Certified Organic (the
certification arm of the Biological Farmers of Australia), the
National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia, and
Organic Growers of Australia.
Whilst there is a large degree of overlap between these
standards there are differences, leading to a potentially confusing
situation for industry.
Currently, in the absence of any binding standard the simplest
way to substantiate a claim that a product is organic would be to
obtain certification, and indeed, for exported product the AQIS
standard imposes a requirement that the product be certified by an
approved certifying organisation.
The draft Standard
On 21 July 2008 Standards Australia released the draft
Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products for public
comment. Submissions closed on 22 September 2008.
Provides a national, consistent framework for the organic
industry from the paddock to point of sale;
Sets out minimum requirements for growing products which can be
labelled as "organic", "biodynamic" or
Provides clear definitions about what is organic and what is
Protects consumers against unsubstantiated claims and
Protects growers against misinterpretation and misleading use
of organic agricultural practices and the term
Provides a guide for farmers considering conversion to organic
Despite Standards Australia's lofty statements we suggest
that as a practical matter unless the draft Standard is adopted
into legislation that very little will change. The draft Standard,
when finalised, will be voluntary and so does not alter the
regulatory framework surrounding organic claims - rather it will be
yet another standard that courts and regulators such as the ACCC
will take into consideration when considering whether a claim is
Certainly the development of a national standard appears to be
supported by the ACCC, with the ACCC Chairman, Mr Graeme Samuel
"Many consumers actively seek
out and are prepared to pay a premium for organically produced
products. Many farmers also make a significant investment to grow
and differentiate organic produce. The development of a national
standard will benefit both consumers and producers by enhancing the
opportunity for informed choice."
However, we will have to wait and see whether the ACCC will
endorse the draft Standard once it is finalised.
Additionally, were a decision made to formally regulate the use
of the term organic it seems likely that the draft Standard would
form the basis of any legislation/regulation. However, in the short
term the draft Standard is unlikely to have much impact on
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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