Playing by different rules

Rumours abound about the leniency afforded by some organic organisations, but how can this be when they are all supposed to be singing from the one national rulebook?

There are now six organic organisations (TOP merged with Australian Certified Organic in 2014) accredited by the Australian Government to do certification.

Each is required to use the overarching national organic standard as a baseline for their own individual standards. Standard is the term for the rulebooks, which can be 100 pages long. They prescribe what farmers, processors, manufacturers and wholesalers need to do to wear their logo.

Standards? Oh we have lots of standards!

There are seven different organic standards in Australia (including the national one).

The Australian Government had to develop one for exported products and required each certifier to develop their own.

It’s common knowledge that some companies chose a certifier based on which standards they can meet. If their product can’t meet the bar of one certifier they might get it passed by another.

Changes are made each year to the national standard, which are then made to individual standards so they are slowly aligning. The many different Australian organic logos are confusing and while some in the industry want to see a single logo, one of the largest organic certifying groups fiercely opposes it.

Some groups can accredit companies to international standards, like COSMOS which is just for cosmetics and skincare. This means the company is certified to that standard, not the certifying body’s own standard.

Are the organic logos different?

Yes, they each have subtle differences.

Some Australian certification organisations are criticised for being too lenient. This leniency is more likely to be seen in the auditing and processing of applications from companies seeking certification and not in the actual written standards.

It’s common knowledge that some companies chose a certifier based on which standards they can meet. If their product can’t meet the bar of one certifier they might get it passed by another.

Australia’s organic industry is self-regulated and certifying groups contract independent auditors to carry out onsite checks each year.

It’s comforting that at the very least there is a baseline organic standard that each certifier complies with and that the larger organisations have excellent reputations and meet the organic certification expectations of at least five other major countries.

How do we compare with the rest of the world?

Some standards written by Australian individual certification bodies are more lenient than international standards – some are stricter.

Australia’s national organic (baseline) standard isn’t accepted by some countries because it doesn’t meet higher international expectations. Other certifying groups, such as NASAA and Australian Certified Organic, have been able to achieve recognition with other countries. This makes it easier for companies certified with them to export their products.

Australian organic standards have a higher tolerance for preservatives in organic wine (half of what is allowed in conventional wine) than the United States’ organic standards.

The United States prohibits organic farmers from using 1080 bait; whereas Australian standards allow restricted use. Australian standards doesn’t tolerate GM contamination; whereas the United States organic standards accept a small amount of incidental contamination in the end product.

Overall the standards developed by Australia’s leading organic organisations Australian Certified Organic and NASAA are highly regarded by international organic organisations.

Does this answer your question? If not, or if you have a comment, let us know.

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