Instant expert

Organic Labelling

How do tell whether an organic product is the real deal?

Sometimes it's easy to spot exaggerated claims but then there are hundreds of credible-looking labels that, on closer examination, could just as easily have been issued by an unscrupulous manufacturer, as by a genuine environmental assessor.

'Organic' is a prime example of one label that is misused. Mostly, that's because the word 'organic' can mean several different things.

When cosmetics companies use the word, they are either being:

  • Scientific
    Their product contains a carbon-based compound — bearing in mind that carbon is found in everything that's ever lived
  • Whimsical
    Using their Marketing prowess to appeal to our 'pure', 'natural', 'organic' needs
  • Green
    Referring to the fact that some ingredients in their product were sourced from a legitimate supplier of plants grown without artificial fertilisers and pesticides

It doesn't guarantee an absence in their product of non-organic perfumes, colours or sudsing agents.

The word 'organic' on food labels may mean the ingredients were grown on farms that employ organic methods — using holistic cultivation methods and no synthetic fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides.

In Australia the use of the label 'organic' is heavily regulated by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) when produce is exported, but open to abuse for the domestic market.

Take, for example, a brand of pasta whose name looks a lot like the word 'organic'. It displays labels saying "quality", "gourmet" and, of course, "natural".

But while it has many positive attributes, not one of its ingredients, however wholesome sounding, is organic. There's no lie on the package; it merely offers me a suggestion of organic through its labels and images.

Similarly, some muesli bars have the word 'organic' in their brand name, but are made of a mix of "natural and some organic ingredients".

Labels that say 'certified organic' are different. For both food and cosmetics, the 'certified organic' label guarantees the product has been scrutinised by a third party.

In Australia, there are seven organics certification companies that have been approved by AQIS:

  • ACO (Australian Certified Organic)
  • NASAA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia)
  • Aus-Qual (AUS-QUAL Limited)
  • Demeter (Bio-Dynamic Research Institute)
  • OFC (Organic Food Chain)
  • SFPQ (Safe Food Production Queensland)
  • T.O.P. (Tasmanian Organic-dynamic Producers)

Single page view