History of Australian Organic

20150120_143701As the leading organic industry group in Australia we are often asked some common questions about organic produce and processes. Here are some of those frequently asked questions.

1. What is organic?

The term ‘organic’ is not currently regulated under Australian law, meaning that companies/businesses/products are not required to follow specific regulations or a Standard in order to claim ‘organic’. This is why it is important for consumers to always look for ‘certified organic’ and a trusted certification logo, like our Bud logo.

To be certified organic means to grow or manufacture a product free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics. Livestock must be free to range and pasture-fed, seed must be non-GM, and the process must be water efficient and biodiversity friendly. Producers, processors, manufacturers and retailers of food, drink, fibre, skincare and cosmetics can be certified organic.

2. What’s the difference between something labelled ‘organic’ and something that is certified organic?

When consumers choose a product that carries a certification logo like the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) Bud logo they are protected by consumer laws. ACO routinely and randomly audits and tests businesses and products that use our Bud logo. ACO’s Bud logo is an Australian Government approved certification logo. Products wearing the Bud logo must follow the requirements and regulations set out in the Australian Certified Organic Standard.

3. How can I trust it’s really organic?

You can’t trust something is really organic unless it carries a certification logo like Australian Certified Organic. There are seven organic certifying bodies approved by the Australian Government and Australian Certified Organic is one of them. Beware of imitations – there are plenty of products in the cosmetic and skincare industry that are marketed as organic but their ingredients wouldn’t pass the Australian Certified Organic test.

4. Why does Australian Certified Organic have its own Standard?

Because it’s a registered trademark and required to have one by law. Also by having its own Standard Australian Certified Organic has been able to achieve greater market access than any other standards set by the Australian Government or other accredited bodies. This is a credit to the strictness of the Australian Certified Organic Standard.

5. Why are there differences between the Australian Certified Organic Standard and export standards?

Ninety-nine per cent of the requirements between the Australian Certified Organic Standard and international standards are the same. Some of the small differences relate to the reality of farming in the Australian climate. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn’t allow producers to feed stock conventional feed, whereas the Australian Certified Organic Standard makes exceptions for producers in drought declared areas who can’t source certified organic feed.

6. Why does Australian Certified Organic certify imported produce?

The certifying arm is called Australian Certified Organic because the business is based in Australia. While we encourage businesses to choose Australian grown products, the reality is that not all ingredients are available in Australia. Some manufacturers and retailers need a consistent, high supply of ingredients, which they simply can’t source from within the country. All ingredients, whether local or imported, must comply with the strict requirements of the Australian Certified Organic Standard.

7. Do organic standards apply to produce once it has left the farm gate?

Absolutely. Raising organic meat is far more than just making sure animals are free ranging and grass fed, it’s equally about producing cattle without synthetic growth hormones or antibiotics, breeding using natural methods, stress free weaning that allows for the ethological needs of mothers and young, access at all times to unfiltered sunlight and not using electric prodders as a routine management method.

For a meat product to be certified organic it must be processed at a certified organic abattoir which keeps cattle in their social groups, provides comfortable holding pens with feed, water and bedding, doesn’t kill animals in the line of sight of other animals and renders animals unconscious before they’re killed. Live export is not permitted under the Australian Certified Organic Standard.

Processing and manufacturing sites producing certified organic products are not permitted to use harmful cleaning chemicals and conventional produce must be segregated from certified organic produce.

8. What stocking rates apply to egg farms?

To use the Australian Certified Organic Bud logo, egg farmers can’t stock more than 1500 birds per hectare if they are set stocking or up to 2500 birds per hectare for layers on pasture rotations. These are equal to the strictest interpretations of any of the varying free-range standards available.

Don’t forget when you’re buying certified organic you’re also buying eggs that are produced without artificial colour additives, antibiotics and synthetic agrichemicals.

9. Where can I buy organic produce?

Major retailers like Coles and Woolworths stock a wide range of certified organic products, from fresh fruit and vegetables and dairy to canned vegetables and feminine hygiene items. Your local health food store will also carry a wide range. See our Where to Buy Certified Organic section for a list of retailers near you or online.

10. Where can I find a list of organic products?

Look under the product search tab at aco.net.au. You only need to use the ‘search for’ field to find products like corn chips, shampoo or lamb to get a list of producers or manufacturers who are certified with Australian Certified Organic.

11. How can I start to incorporate organics into my life?

Most people start by buying certified organic fresh fruit and vegetables. If you can’t source all your fresh fruit and vegetables organically at least chose certified organic fruit and vegetables that you eat the skin of such as strawberries, apples and potatoes, that way you avoid harmful chemical residues. See here for an interesting report about which foods contain the highest levels of residues. It can help you prioritise.

12. How can I reduce the costs of buying organic?

When you chose organic food you are paying the real costs of real food. Organic produce often simply costs more to produce and distribute due to higher labour costs and smaller economies of scale. You can reduce costs by buying in season, buying in bulk and buying straight from farmers at markets. Here’s some more tips.

13. What’s the difference between certified organic and ‘natural’ and ‘eco’?

Certified organic is a regulated industry with set standards in place such as the Australian Certified Organic Standard and national and international standards, natural and eco don’t fit within any regulations, nor are the claims supervised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Natural claims on food and drink don’t have to be produced under strict standards; to be certified organic ingredients or the product must be produced cruelty free, be pasture fed, socially responsible, free range, biodiversity friendly, non GM and grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics. Unlike organic there is no consensus about what “natural” or “eco” means.

14. What does in-conversion mean?

In-conversion is the period of time a farmer is in before they can be fully certified organic. It’s like training wheels – they’re transitioning to certified organic. During the in-conversion period they must adhere 100% to the Australian Certified Organic Standard.

in_conversionIn-conversion farmers cannot use prohibited chemicals and other inputs, they must be free to range animals on natural pasture, not using antibiotics or hormones and adhere to the strict animal welfare guidelines as required by the Standard. They are also audited every year and products that are in-conversion are sold with a stippled Australian Certified Organic logo.