Outing organic imposters

Have you ever seen a product labelled as organic and thought, it can’t be? Or perhaps you have evidence that a company is behaving in a way that isn’t compatible with organic standards.Michael-auditing2

Complaints over concerns such as these are raised with Australian Certified Organic each year. In the past 12 months, the certification company has taken 40 formal complaints.

Chief certification officer Michael Baker says the nature of the complaints varies. “Many are about labeling issues, allegations of substitution, the use of prohibited substances or suspicion over a product’s claim to be organic,” he says.

“We take all complaints seriously and investigate as soon as possible,” Michael says. Following up complaints happens in a number of ways. The certified organic industry is highly regulated with a thorough traceback system, making most follow-ups straightforward; however, some responses require unannounced audits, product testing and liaising with other certification bodies.

While Australian Certified Organic has successfully resolved many issues amicably by talking with manufacturers and educating them about what certified organic is, it has pursued complaints about misleading labelling with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

From the 40 complaints, only one was deemed to be in serious breach of the organic certifier’s requirements. The company concerned was contacted and the problem resolved. In one recent case, an operator labelled eggs as organic when they were not covered under the scope of their certification. The operator was required to recall all eggs labelled with the Australian Certified Organic logo and remove all reference to Australian Certified Organic from the labelling.

Some labelling issues happen because manufacturers simply don’t understand the difference between ‘organic’ and certified organic and that the later is a regulated industry.

Michael says, “The organic industry in Australia is self-regulated, so to maintain trust and integrity in the industry it’s vital that we pursue every complaint we receive.

“In addition to investigating complaints, we also annually audit businesses certified with Australian Certified Organic and routinely and randomly test products wearing the Australian Certified Organic logo. ACO has completed over 200 product and soil tests.”

If you have concerns about the legitimacy of a certified organic product, please email kellie.lewis@aco.net.au or call 07 3350 5716.