Label detective: Change coming for organic claims

Reviewed by our expert panel
Label detective: Change coming for organic claims

New rules are on the horizon for organic food claims. Food law experts at Simpson Grierson explain.

Organic products are a popular choice with New Zealand consumers. More and more products featuring an organic label are appearing on our supermarket shelves, often with premium price tags attached.

What standard do these products meet that allows them to display an ‘organic’ sticker or make an ‘organic’ claim? The answer is none.

That is set to change. Last December, the Government announced a bill will be introduced in 2019 allowing for the development of national standards for organic products. This will mean uniform mandatory regulation for organic products where there is currently none.

The law as it stands

Currently, there is no law specific to organic products. However, that is not to say manufacturers making these claims are operating in a legal vacuum. Claims about organic products still have to comply with the overarching prohibitions on false and misleading representations in trade under the Fair Trading Act (FTA).

The FTA requires, like other representations in trade, organic claims must not be false or misleading, and there is reliable evidence to support such claims. An issue with this very general approach is that there is no legislative definition of what ‘organic’ means. Therefore, there is a lack of certainty about whether products will meet the consumer’s expectations of ‘organic’.

In addition to the FTA, there are voluntary industry standards that organic producers can choose to meet. However, consumers and regulators have asked questions as to whether a voluntary scheme is enough. New Zealand and Australia are the only two organic markets in the world’s top 25 that do not have mandatory domestic standards.

The Ministry for Primary Industries ran public consultations in early 2018 to find out whether people thought New Zealand would benefit from new organic regulations.

What is changing?

Food safety minister, Damien O’Connor, has announced the Government will introduce a national standard for organic production as a bill in 2019.

Consumer tip

Until the national standard comes into force, you can contact the manufacturer or visit its website to see whether it has industry organic certification to justify the claim.

As the standard is in the early stages of planning and the Government is looking at how to proceed, details have not yet been released. There will be opportunities for the public and industry to provide feedback throughout the bill’s progress.

What does this mean?

Assuming the bill is passed, which is likely, consumers can be confident, when purchasing a product labelled organic, that it has passed certain organic standards and is worthy of the label and premium price. This means they will not have to do their own research to figure out whether a product is really organic or not, leading to easier and confident shopping. Watch this space!

First published: Mar 2019


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