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Products that are labelled as ‘organic’ can be a very attractive selling point for customers. However, a business cannot simply label a product as organic if it does not fit the strict criteria set out by Australian Standard (AS 6000). In Australia, consumers are protected from false or misleading representations. Therefore, if you want to label your products as organic, you must meet the requisite standards that apply to organic products in Australia. This article explains the requirements for products to be certified organic and outlines the consequences of falsely labelling products when they are not certified.

What is Organic Food?

Organic food is the result of farming that avoids the use of:

  • man-made fertilisers;
  • pesticides;
  • growth regulators; and
  • additives.

Furthermore, any products produced from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are restricted from being classified as organic.

There are several reasons why people produce, sell and buy organic products. However, the desire to be more socially innovative and environmentally sustainable is among one of the most common reasons.

Instead of participating in practices that aren’t conducive to reaching an organic status, farmers often instead use agricultural methods such as:

  • crop rotation;
  • animal and plant manures; and
  • biological pest control.

Organic Product Certification

If you want to label your business products as ‘organic’, they need to be certified. Several different accredited private bodies in Australia provide classification. Therefore, after you have been certified, you can legally label your products to indicate this status with an organic:

Certain labels target customers who are buying the organic status just as much as they are buying the particular product. Some of these include labelling a product as:

  • 100% organic;
  • made using organic ingredients; or
  • certified organic.

However, if you want to label your business’ products as organic, you will need to be able to verify your claims.

The AS 6000 Standard

If you are a grower or manufacturer wishing to label your product as organic, you will need to be familiar with the AS 6000 standard for organic and biodynamic products. This guideline was developed with the intention of standardising practices within the organic industry. Therefore, it aims to operate as a uniform framework across Australia that regulates how people can:

  • grow;
  • produce;
  • distribute;
  • market; and
  • label organic products.

By having a single regulatory framework, consumers are able to identify whether a product is organic or not more easily. If your business sells an organic product, you should ensure that your operations are compliant with this standard. If you purchase organic products, you should look out for the label that tells you whether the product complies with the AS 6000.

Is Certification Recognised Internationally?

Other countries have different regulations for labelling products as organic. However, Australian certified products are recognised internationally.

For example, the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) is a prominent certifier for organic and biodynamic produce. It allows businesses to market products to both domestic and international markets. As a result, the ACO logo is a familiar sign in:

  • Asia;
  • Europe; and
  • the United States.

Products Labelled ‘Organic’ That Aren’t Organic

You can face serious consequences if products that have been labelled as organic are not, in fact, organic. In Australia, there are laws that protect customers from being misled about the goods and services that they purchase. Therefore, businesses cannot make statements or representations that are incorrect or are likely to create a false impression in the mind of the consumer.

Furthermore, be careful not to copy another product’s certified organic logo without receiving your own certification. Not only is this an infringement of consumer law, but you may also be infringing someone else’s trade mark.

Businesses are legally responsible for the consequences of misleading or deceiving customers, even if that was not their intention. Therefore, it is imperative that you ensure compliance with the requisite Australian standards before you start labelling your products as organic. As a precaution, keep detailed records of:

  • your production processes;
  • your farming techniques; and
  • the ingredients within your products.

Claiming Misleading Conduct

If your product had misled a consumer into believing that a product was organic when it wasn’t, they could take the following steps:

1. Complain to Your Business

After a consumer has realised that there is a problem, they might contact your business and file a complaint. If so, you should be willing to refund the item if the customer has proof of their purchase.

2. Report the issue

The customer may contact the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ACIC) to report your product as misleading. Therefore, to avoid any legal disputes, it is imperative that you obtain all the correct certifications before beginning to sell your products.

Key Takeaways

Ensuring that your business complies with the standards that regulate the organic industry in Australia is crucial. When looking to certify a product as organic, you will need to comply with the AS 6000 standard and obtain certification through a private body. If you market products as organic when they have not received certification, you could open your business up to a legal claim of misleading and deceptive conduct. 

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