The review of the Export Control (Organic Produce Certification) Orders provides an opportunity for Australia’s organic and bio‑dynamic industries to partner with the Australian Government to develop better and simpler regulations that act in the interests of organic operators and consumers—regulations that could underpin better domestic market integrity, improve prospects for export market access, reduce red tape and costs, and support a more prosperous and future‑oriented organic industry.
There are two main standards for organics currently operating in Australia:
- the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce, which is the mandatory export standard under the Export Control Act 1982
- the Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products (AS 6000), which has been a voluntary standard in the domestic market since 2009
There is no mandatory requirement for certification of organic product sold domestically in Australia. In the absence of specific domestic regulation for organic production, the export regulation of organics became the de facto domestic regulation of the sector, through certification by one of Australia’s six private certifiers which base their certification standards on the National Standard.
Critical to the success of Australia’s organic industries, is the need to maintain trust in a credible system of standards—including standards development, enforcement, compliance and education—and ensuring that the regulatory system has appropriate levels of integrity—robust compliance, minimal fraud, and strong consumer recognition. Organic producers are concerned that, without these outcomes, there is an erosion of trust in organic products and pressure on prices from non‑certified products.
Trust in organic produce is critically important for end‑consumers as well as organic producers higher in the supply chain—for example, organic chicken meat producers require certified organic grains as the key input into their production process. Any weak link in the organic supply chain threatens the credibility of that whole sector.
Regulations pertaining to the production, import, export and sale of products claiming organic or bio-dynamic status are present in all three levels of Australia’s governments, as well as in case law. The treatment of organic products under Australia’s federal legislation is different depending on whether the organic products are destined for export or the domestic market; however, organic goods produced for the domestic market and imported organic goods are captured indirectly through overarching legislation and regulation for foodstuffs—the States play a key role in the regulation of these markets.
Consumers of organic produce are particularly vulnerable in this confusion of regulatory responsibilities, in that they must rely on product labelling for information pertaining to the nature and composition of the product.
- Such claims cannot be easily verified by the consumer independently, so they are at risk of being misled in their purchasing decisions.
- In addition, organic produce is commonly sold at a premium price, due to the perceived health and environmental benefits, so consumers are at risk of excessive payments for mistakenly purchasing non‑certified products.
There is a confluence of interest between consumers and producers of certified organic produce, as these two detriments place Australia’s organic consumers in a vulnerable position, where non‑certified suppliers can readily take advantage of the financial benefits associated with such organic claims without due substantiation. This is particularly true with the labelling of organic products intended for the Australian domestic market, as such products can claim to be ‘organic’ without meeting the relevant standard to be ‘certified organic’.
The future for Australia’s organic industry could be more prosperous, leveraging off a growing consumer preference for premium products in Australia as well as key export markets. However, to achieve this, the industry’s regulatory arrangements must be reformed in the best interests of organic growers, processors and traders, to promote domestic market integrity for producers and consumers, and to facilitate export market access.
There is clearly an opportunity for the industry, consumers and all governments to collaborate on better labelling of products and improved market integrity. As the new peak body for Australia’s organic industries, Organic Industries of Australia welcomes the opportunity to work with the Australian and State Governments to:
- streamline regulatory complexities and reduce costs for exported organic produce
- move towards one standard for organic produce to apply or both domestic markets and export
- improve domestic market integrity for the purposes of:
- enhanced consumer trust in organic products
- higher margins received by organic producers
- better export market access—as many export markets are bewildered as to whether Australia’s confused domestic regulation of organic produce has implications for the quality of our organic exports
- underpin greater growth in organic production for both domestic consumption and export
 Christina Do (2015), Organic Food Labelling in Australia, University of Queensland Law Journal, Vol 34(1).