Companies are “greenwashing” their food by claiming their products are organic when they fail to meet industry standards, a leading consumer group says.
Choice policy and campaigns manager Sarah Agar said companies were claiming their products are organic when they are not certified.
A survey by Australian Organic in 2014 found that two thirds of consumers think a label guarantees a product is organic
“When consumers are purchasing products that make credence claims, that’s claims about certain inherent qualities of the product like that it’s organic, eco friendly, or free range, they will pay a premium for this,” Ms Agar said.
Certified organic products are grown and produced without chemicals in an environmentally sustainable way which avoids animal cruelty.
Organic food can cost double or triple the price of conventional products and the fast-growing industry is worth more than $2 billion.
In 2013, the ACCC forced seven manufacturers to change the labels of their bottled water after claims it was organic.
The ABC found products in shops using the term organic and claiming to contain certified organic extracts when they did not have an official organic certification logo.
Ms Agar said she wanted to see maximum penalties for false and misleading claims increased from $1.1 million to $10 million in the current review of consumer laws.
“We think that if we could raise the penalties in Australia to be more in line with what we see elsewhere, that would be a much greater deterrent to stop businesses in this country from misleading consumers,” she said.
Calls for government to step in with regulation
Aside from getting domestic organic certification, producers must also be certified for export, but the situation is complex, Australian Organic chairman Andrew Monk said.
“We have seven separate accreditations for seven separate trading regions of the world. We would love that to be one,” Dr Monk said.
Organic accreditation in countries including the US, Japan and Europe is done by a standardised system by the government.
“The accreditation of Australian organic products is done by six companies,” Nick Tarrant, senior analyst at business forecaster IBISWorld, said, adding export authorisation was a big challenge for organic producers.
Beef producer Simone Tully runs Australian Organic Meats and said the company had to obtain the US organic certification mark (USDA), so they could export their produce to Asia because there was no national Australian organic logo.
“I’m sending great Australian organic product certified to the USDA mark, which is unfortunate,” she said.
“We would love to promote our region.”