For a product to be labelled ‘certified organic’ in Australia, it must go through a strict certification procedure including inspection and approval by an independent, third-party organic certification agency.
These rigorous assessments ensure that the producer, manufacturer, and final product complies to relevant standards, such as the National Standard for Organic and Bio-dynamic Produce (required for export) or the Australian Certified Organic Standard (ACOS).
Organic standards are sets of requirements that describe what practices or procedures are used for the final product to be considered certified organic. Typically, organic standards address various aspects of organic production such as soil management, crop and animal production, processing and handling, and packaging and labelling requirements.
The Auditing and Certification Process
Certified organic products go through a rigorous certification process at every part of the supply chain to ensure they meet organic standard requirements – from the farm and the sourcing the ingredients, to manufacturing and processing, all the way through to the point of sale.
Every certified organic farm, food manufacturer, processor, wholesaler and retailer that handles or modifies the product in any way must comply and agree to a thorough inspection at least once per year, as well as unannounced audits. Audits must be conducted by individuals who are completely independent of the business in question, usually contracted by an organic certification body. Businesses seeking organic certification must have robust systems in place and paperwork to prove that organic Standards are continually being met to uphold their certification status.
Once organic businesses are certified and pass initial compliance, they are issued with an organic certificate and certification number. The awarded status can be either ‘Organic’ or ‘In-Conversion’ which indicates they are in the process of converting to organic. The organic certificate includes a list of which land, products, ingredients or processes have been certified. This certificate acts like a passport to prove the organic status of their goods. They are then permitted to use their certification body’s logo, alongside their certification number, on product labels after they have been approved by their certification body.
When organic products are exported from Australia, they must be accompanied by an Organic Goods Certificate (also known as an OGC) and provide documentation to meet the requirements of the importing country.
Organic Standards in Australia
Australia’s baseline organic standard for export is the National Standard for Organic and Bio-Dynamic Produce (the National Standard or NS for short), as published by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Brands or businesses can be certified to this standard alone and can additionally be certified to private standards or overseas standards for additional market access or recognition.
Owned and licensed by industry peak body Australian Organic Limited, the Australian Certified Organic Standard (ACOS) is one of the most respected and rigorous organic standards in the world. Aligned with the National Standard, the ACOS includes more detail in various sections to make requirements clearer for operators. Similarly, it has well developed chapters on some product types for which the National Standard is yet to include (Group Certification, textiles etc), and can also provide additional market access (such as wine and livestock products to Europe), and IFOAM certification.
Do All Countries Use the Same Standards/Protocols?
While the term ‘certified organic’ generally means the same around the world, different countries may have organic standards that are adapted and adjusted to better suit their local climate, landscape, or traditional production methods.
Where slight differences may exist between standards, countries may negotiate ‘equivalence agreements’ to allow the trade of organic products on a mutual basis. They agree to disagree on minor issues, as long as they agree on the higher-level organic principles and aims. For example, Australia holds equivalence arrangements for organic exports with the European Union, Japan, Switzerland and Taiwan.
How Do I Know If a Product Is Organic?
Due to the lack of domestic regulation in Australia, you might find products with as little as 2% organic ingredients with an organic claim on their labelling. Consumers cannot be guaranteed that a product is organic unless it displays an organic certification mark such as the Australian Certified Organic Bud trademark logo. An organic certification logo protects consumers from misleading organic claims and is the mark of a genuine organic product which has been audited all along the production chain.
You may also spot organic logos from the USA (USDA) and the EU, which both have domestic regulation and consistency in their markets, on imported products in Australia.
If you’re unsure if a product is certified, or if there is a logo you don’t recognise, always check with the retailer, manufacturer, or the certification body. Many organic certification bodies publish a list of suspended or withdrawn operators who no longer hold organic certification. Check the corresponding certification body website for more information.
Additional Organic Legislature Information
In Australia, there are currently six certification bodies approved by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. These certification bodies are authorised by Government to certify organic products for export and provide certification of operators and products for the domestic market. You can find the most up to date list on their website.
Organic certification is underpinned domestically and internationally by a strict legislative and policy framework:
- The Export Control Act (2020)
- The Export Control (Organic Orders) Rules 2021
- The Export Control (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Act 2020
View more information on the DAFF website here.
For more export and market access information, visit Australian Organic Limited’s organic export resource, Trade Organic.
Certify to the Bud
The Australian Certified Organic ‘Bud’ trademark logo is Australia’s most recognised organic certification mark, now recognised by 62% of Australian shoppers, and appears on thousands of certified organic products. The Bud logo guarantees the integrity of organic products in the marketplace for consumers and is now available to license via certification by ACO Certification Ltd and AUS-QUAL Pty Ltd.