What is Domestic Regulation?
Domestic Regulation of the organic industry refers to the regulation of all brands, businesses and farmers (known collectively as ‘operators’) claiming to sell organic goods. This includes operators based in Australia (domestic) or importing goods from overseas markets to sell in Australia.
Currently, the only organic products regulated in Australia are those being sold for export. These products come under the National Standard for Organic and Bio-Dynamic Produce (the National Standard for short). The majority of organic operators become certified to the National Standard as part of the process to certify their organic products. This process is currently only voluntary for domestic sales in Australia through the use of certification bodies.
Australia is currently the last country in the developed world not to have a set domestic standard for the use of the term ‘organic’.
Certification Bodies and Standards
In Australia, there are currently six certification bodies that certify organic operators to the National Standard and are approved by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Each organic certification body has its own organic certification mark. This includes the Australian Certified Organic ‘Bud’ logo, currently the most recognised organic mark by Australian shoppers, which is owned by Australian Organic Limited and is licensed to organic certification bodies ACO Certification Ltd and AUS-QUAL.
The full list of certification bodies in Australia can be found on the Department of Agriculture’s website here.
The National Standard is the leading standard for organic certification in Australia. The Australian Certified Organic Standard (ACOS) is largely based on the National Standard but has more detail in some areas.
Why do we need domestic regulation in Australia?
There are three main issues due to the lack of a domestic standard in Australia:
- Consumer Confidence – The 2021 Australian Organic Market Report found 31% of Australian consumers believed they had been previously misled by organic claims on product packaging. Products that claim to be organic when they are not (also known as ‘non-certified organics’) can make consumers more likely to mistrust organic products.
- Operator Integrity – Organic operators spend a lot of time, effort and money in obtaining organic certification to prove their products are authentically organic. Non-certified organics cause mistrust amongst consumers, making claims such as “organically grown” or “organic principles” but providing no proof of these claims. Certified organic operators need to continue to compete with non-certified organics if no domestic regulation is in place to hold other businesses accountable for their organic claims.
- Market Access – Australian organic producers are at a disadvantage to other organic producers around the world. They are required to pay additional costs when exporting due to the need for multiple organic accreditations, while also experiencing increased labour costs to manage the large amounts of paperwork for international certification. Domestic regulation would enable Australian organic operators to have better market access and therefore be able to export more products into international markets.
Why should I care about domestic regulation?
As a consumer, you deserve to trust that the organic product you are buying is actually organic. Currently in Australia, without domestic regulation, this cannot be guaranteed.
Unfortunately, there are still products on our shelves that claim to be organic but are not certified and are therefore not being held accountable for the organic claims on their packaging. These products make consumers raise questions around the authenticity of not just organic products but of the entire organic industry, and consumer confidence around organics is therefore shaken.
The worrying statistic that 31% of Australian consumers believe they have been previously misled by organic claims on product packaging proves that non-certified organics are still getting to our shelves.
Introducing domestic regulation will help to close these gaps and increase overall consumer confidence in the organic industry.
How does domestic regulation affect organic businesses?
Organic operators face questions about the integrity of their products regardless of their certification status. The rise in ‘non-certified organics’ in the marketplace is undermining the hard work that certified organic businesses do by increasing consumer mistrust. For operators selling products domestically, this means more time and resources need to be put in place to combat accusations that their products are not organic which inevitably means costs are then passed down to the consumer.
For operators looking to export their organic products, there is also a lack of consistency with other export markets due to the lack of a domestic standard. If they want to export across multiple markets, they are often required to obtain different certifications for each market. These are additional costs that Australian organic operators need to take on board, whereas operators from countries with domestic regulation are paying less to export their products. This puts Australian exporters at a severe disadvantage and has prevented some operators from reaching new markets.
How can I make sure what I’m buying is actually organic?
Currently, the only way to be sure that your organic purchases are authentically organic is to check for a certification logo – such as the Australian Certified Organic Bud logo, the most recognised certification mark in Australia (recognised by 63% of Aussie shoppers).
If there is no certification mark on the packaging, refer to the ingredients list and look for ingredients labelled ‘certified organic’. Look at the percentages of these ingredients to verify what percentage of the product is actually organic. If the percentage of organic ingredients is low, you may wish to take your concerns further.
What should I do if I think something is falsely labelled as ‘organic’?
If you are ever unsure, contact the brand or business and ask them for more information. They may have used imported products and it may be worth asking where these ingredients or products are from. If the business does not provide a satisfactory response you may wish to make a complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that the organic product you purchased is not organic.
This can be done via the ACCC’s website under misleading, false or deceptive claims. While there is no legal requirement for organic certification for a product to be described as ‘organic’ in Australia, businesses are still required to be able to substantiate organic claims.
Until domestic regulation is developed to create a legal requirement for organic products sold within Australia to be certified organic, it remains difficult to prove these misleading claims.
If you believe you have been the victim of a misleading, deceptive or false claim of organics please visit the ACCC’s page on Organic Claims for more information.
What is AOL doing the change this?
Since February 2019, Australian Organic Limited (AOL) has been working tirelessly with members of the Government, Government Departments and other industry groups to push for domestic regulation in Australia.
In June 2020, AOL prepared a discussion paper for the Government and the current Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud. This paper outlined the options for domestic regulation of the organic industry in Australia.
Following the discussion paper, Minister Littleproud announced the formation of the Organics Industry Advisory Group (OIAG) in December 2019, of which AOL was a member. AOL was able to contribute to the discussions on regulatory options and work with the other members on recommendations for regulation and the pros and cons of each option.
Following this process, the OIAG regrouped in December 2021 after Minister Littleproud announced a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) process would take place. As an original member of the OIAG, AOL was invited back to continue the discussions on these options as well as non-regulatory options such as increased education for industry and consumers.
Of the options being presented, AOL believes legislation is the most likely to bring forward a domestic standard that can be used to help solve the issues of consumer confidence, operator integrity and market access.
The Labor Party won the 2022 federal election in May, bringing about a short pause in the organic domestic regulation process as the new Department of Agriculture took shape and dealt with other pressing matters. AOL met with new Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt in November 2022, who was receptive to the notion of continuing the work the previous government undertook before the federal election was called. AOL looks forward to assisting Government and industry to introduce domestic regulation in 2023.
If you wish to learn more about domestic regulation, review the discussion paper or sign our Statement of Support please see here.
What can I do to make a change?
- Look for an organic certification logo to ensure your organic products are authentically organic
- Support your local certified organic producers by buying in-season fresh produce
- Spread the word about the difference between organic and certified organic in Australia
- Take part in webinars and surveys relating to domestic regulation to have your say and learn more
- Join our annual campaigns and events such as Australian Organic Awareness Month to show your support for the organic industry in Australia
- Products with as little as 2% organic ingredients can use the word ‘organic’ on their product packaging in Australia.
- The organic industry contributes $2.6 billion to the Australian economy each year.
- The only way to be sure you’re buying authentic organic products in Australia is to look for a certification logo.
- The Australian Certified Organic Bud logo is the most recognised organic mark in Australia.
- There are currently over 3200 organic operators in Australia.