Issue 3: Standards and integrity
Standards in general are rules about how products are produced (standards for the process of production), or about specification of final products (standards for the product per se). In the case of organic agriculture, standards are about the farm management system, and are therefore process standards. Because of this it is not sufficient to test the product in a laboratory, but the whole farm system needs to be checked and certified.
Such standards serve several purposes. They:
- prescribe to growers what is allowed and not allowed to be practised or used in growing the crop and stock, and provide details about inputs allowed or disallowed;
- prescribe to others in the food chain, such as processors, transporters, importers and exporters, which processes and substances are allowed in the pursuit of their activities;
- indicate to consumers how organic products are produced;
- allow legislators and regulators to facilitate compliance through regulation.
Many stakeholders have identified the issues around the integrity of the Australian organic standards as being critically important to the future of the industry. These are therefore issues that need to be given consideration in the process of consulting on a peak body.
Central to the success of Australia’s organic industry, is the need to have a credible system of standards (development, enforcement, compliance etc) and ways to ensure that there is a system with high levels of integrity (high compliance, minimal fraud, strong consumer recognition etc). Without these outcomes, there is an erosion, or potential erosion, of trust and confidence.
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. While the export of organic products is captured directly under Australia’s export legislation, organic goods produced for the domestic market and imported organic goods are captured indirectly through overarching legislation and regulation for foodstuffs.
There are two main standards for organics currently operating in Australia:
- the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce, which is used as the mandatory export standard under the Export Control Act 1982; and
- the Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products (AS 6000), which is a voluntary standard in the domestic market.
The Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC) oversees all matters pertaining to standards and certification for the organic industry—both domestically and for export.<
In addition, there is an extensive regulatory system in place which provides guarantees in food chain integrity. For example, the current arrangements for importing food products labelled as organic or bio-dynamic into Australia allow trade to occur freely, provided that:
- all quarantine requirements are met (Biosecurity Act 2015); and
- all imported food safety requirements are met (Imported Food Control Act 1992); and
- the goods are truthfully labelled (Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010).
More detail is available in Australian Legal Framework for the Import and Export of Organic Products
- How could Australia’s standards system achieve greater integrity?
- Are the organic standards arrangements effective and efficient?
- Is another model of coordination required? Would this be a role for the new peak body or would it be better done separately?
- Do current arrangements for standards provide confidence for domestic consumers and businesses?
Harmonisation of standards
- Do current arrangements work to assist certifiers harmonise standards?
- Are there adequate arrangements for operators to interact, direct, or hold to account individual operators/certifiers in current framework?
- Are current standards frameworks adequate or are they exposed to fraud, undue influence and undisclosed conflicts?