Products labelled ‘organic’ can be a very attractive selling point for consumers. A business cannot label a product ‘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 under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). From an ethical perspective, consumers also have a right to know whether what they are buying is organically sourced and produced, particularly if they are choosing an organic product for health or religious reasons.
If you want to label your products organic, you must meet the requisite standards that apply to organic products in Australia and comply with consumer law. This article covers the requirements for products to be certified, as well as the consequences for falsely labelling products as ‘organic’ when they are not certified.
What is Organic Food?
Organic food is the result of farming that avoids the use of man-made fertilisers and pesticides, growth regulators and additives. 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 but among those is the desire to be more socially innovative and environmentally sustainable. Agricultural methods such as crop rotation, animal and plant manures and biological pest control can be used instead of other practices that aren’t conducive to reaching an organic status.
Organic Product Certification
If you want to label your business products as ‘organic’, they need to be certified. Certification is provided by several different private bodies in Australia that are accredited by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The courses can include assistance with the completion of applications and the audit process and the operation of getting organic labelling approval. After you have been certified, you can legally label your products with an ‘organic’ symbol, logo or trademark to indicate this status.
Labels such as “100% Organic”, “Made using organic ingredients” or “certified organic” target those customers who are buying the organic status just as much as they are buying the particular product. This includes other commonly referred to phrases for certain products such as claiming “free range eggs”.
Businesses that label products as ‘organic’ will need to be able to verify their claims.
Voluntary Australian Standard (AS 6000)
If you are a grower or manufacturer wishing to label your product as ‘organic’ then you will need to be familiar with the Australian Standard (AS 6000) for organic and biodynamic products. This guideline was developed with an 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 can more easily identify whether a product is organic or not, without being confused. If you are involved in the sale of an organic product, then you should ensure that your operations are compliant with this standard. If you are a purchaser of organic products, then you should look out for the label that tells you 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 and allows businesses to market products to both domestic and international markets. As a result, the ACO logo (know as a ‘Bud Logo’) is a familiar sign in Asia, Europe and the US.
Products Labelled ‘Organic’ That Aren’t Organic
You can face serious consequences if products that have been labelled ‘organic’ are not in fact organic. In Australia, there are laws that protect customers from being misled about goods and services they purchase. Therefore, businesses are not allowed to make statements or representations that are incorrect or are likely to create a false impression in the mind of the consumer.
Also be careful not to copy another product’s certified organic logo without your certification. Not only is this an infringement of consumer law, but you may also be infringing someone else’s trademark.
Businesses are responsible for misleading or deceiving customers even if that was not their intention. Ensuring compliance with the requisite Australian standards before you start labelling your products as organic is imperative. As a precaution, keep detailed records of your production processes, farming techniques and ingredients used.
A lawyer can review your business and production practices to ensure that the status you give your products is correct.
Claiming Misleading Conduct
If a consumer has been misled into believing a product was organic if it wasn’t, they can take the following steps:
- Contact The Seller/Business
As soon as you have realised the problem you should contact the company responsible and explain your problem. They may be willing to refund the item providing you have proof of purchase.
- Report the issue
You may want to contact the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ACCC) to record your issue. Alternatively getting advice from a lawyer will help you understand available avenues of redress, including whether you have a case for misleading or deceptive conduct.
Ensuring that your business product complies with standards that regulate the organic industry in Australia is crucial. If you aren’t proactive about compliance, then you could end up costing your business significant time and money, and if you operate a smaller business, you may not be able to bounce back.
Contact LegalVision’s business lawyers to assist you with achieving and protecting your organic status.