Descriptions like 'organic', 'bio-dynamic', 'biological', 'ecological' or similar words can be used on any food destined for the domestic market.
Generally they refer to food that has been grown or produced without any contact with artificial fertilisers and chemicals.
Businesses that produce organic food claim to have a very high degree of environmental awareness.
The export situation is different. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has, together with the Organic Industry Export Consultative Committee, developed a National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce.
The Standard requires organic food to be produced using:
- renewable resources
- the conservation of energy, soil and water
- recognition of livestock welfare needs
- environmental maintenance and enhancement.
All organic produce exported from Australia has to be certified by an approved certifying organisation as having been produced in accordance with the above Standard. The same certifying outline, although voluntary, is often used for the domestic market. Such foods would be marked certified organic with the certifying organisation clearly marked.
'Bio-dynamic' is often closely associated with 'organic' and usually refers to an agricultural system that produces organic food, but focuses more on the holistic and philosophical farming processes, rather than just meeting the requirements of organic standards.
Organic food labelling
Organic foods are proving increasingly popular – the industry in NSW grew from an estimated market value of $250 million in 2003 to $300 million in 2004.
Organic products do not raise any immediate or significant public health and safety risks. Organic products must still comply with health and safety standards that apply to all food.
Because organics cannot be distinguished from conventionally produced products, they could be incorrectly or even fraudulently labelled. When purchasing organic products, consumers should look for those which display certification labels of Certification Organisations. This will ensure they have been produced and/or certified to recognised organic standards.
The NSW Food Authority monitors organic foods as part of its general overview of food products to make sure that the food is safe and correctly labelled.
Harsh penalties for misleading consumers exist under the Food Act 2003 and the Food Authority can prosecute businesses that fail to comply with the law.
Organic production certification
All food businesses in NSW must comply with the Food Act 2003 and it is the Food Authority’s role to check for compliance, but the Food Authority does not certify organic producers as this is not part of domestic legislation.
Voluntary domestic certification is available from organisations accredited and audited by AQIS for export certification. They audit certified producers at least annually for compliance using the same system for both domestic and export foods.