Setting a new standard for organic

Posted by Isobel Drake on 14th May 2009

Dr. Andrew Monk, convenor of the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) Standards Advisory Group, says a new standard for organic being developed with Standards Australia will not change the answer to the consumer question – “how can I trust organic?””The only solution for the consumer will remain the same: look for a ‘certified organic’ logo to be absolutely certain a product is organic.”

A certification logo currently must accompany the word ‘organic’ on a product for the claim to be verified.

Dr. Monk believes a new standard will not change this in the absence of legislation, “which is not likely to occur in Australia in the coming years.”

“Unlike claims such as “green”, “sustainable” and “natural” the certified organic industry relies on recognised standards and most importantly independent auditing and certification to back those claims,” he said.

Dr. Monk added that better shelf exposure in recent years has seen consumers become more aware of what the ‘certified’ in certified organic means.

“Certified organic companies are answerable to strict regulation. They are subject to annual audits and unannounced inspections, as well as market product sampling,” he explained.

He said that, under the current certification system, the Australian organic industry has developed internationally recognised organic standards, and that action is taken against products not complying with certification requirements – including a benchmark case where an operator was fined for fraudulently claiming his eggs were certified organic.

Retailers, including supermarkets, are also becoming more vigilant about the status of their certified organic products.

“The irony is that while supermarkets are an easy target when it comes to the expectation for rigour in organic integrity, the majors lead the marketplace, along with certified independent retailers,” Dr Monk advised. “In actual fact it is locally marketed produce such as at farmers markets, which is often more of a concern to the organic industry because clear labelling and certification is less commonly displayed.”

But he maintained that local farmers markets and produce will remain an integral part of the organic industry, and continue to grow at a very healthy rate.

“Consumers nonetheless need to look for those certification marks for assurance of true organic. To help address labelling issues , BFA introduced a new section to the AOS for Farmers Markets last year, which clearly outlines a code of practice for local organic markets and sellers,” he said.

BFA has now developed the AOS to include sections for organic aquaculture, organic fairtrade, agricultural inputs allowed in organic systems and organic cosmetics to a level which has been internationally acknowledged. “These are practical standards, developed in line with what the consumer expects from an organic product – accounting for matters such as animal welfare, environmental sustainability, food safety, and responsible farming systems,” Dr Monk reported.

Issues raised by producers and consumers need to be continuously addressed, leading to regular updates of the Standard, Dr Monk concluded.

The new edition AOS 2009 is due for release in the final quarter of this calendar year.