• How do you tell if produce is genuinely organic? (Taxi/Getty Images)
If you want to buy genuine organic food, you should know what 'organic' labels mean and how to ensure you're paying for the real deal.
Yasmin Noone

6 Sep 2018 - 3:23 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2018 - 4:49 PM

The topic of organic food draws deep divisions.

In camp one are shoppers who trust that produce labelled ‘organic’ are free of synthetic agricultural chemicals like pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Over in camp two, you’ll find those who believe some food manufacturers dishonestly say their products are truly organic when they aren’t.

So which group is in the right? The fact is there’s truth in both camps. 

According to Foodwise.com.au, the use of the label ‘organic’ is regulated by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service when produce is exported overseas. However, the organic label isn’t regulated in Australia for products sold in our domestic market.

Dr Sarah Lantz, an ambassador for the non-profit industry group, Australian Organic, explains that sometimes companies wrongly call their products organic when they aren't.

“Any manufacturer can put ‘natural and organic’ on their product labels,” says Dr Lantz, who has a PhD in clinical nutrition and public health. “It might mean that some or part of a product is organic or natural but there’s no guarantee that the whole product is organic as the label says.”

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Produce labels that say ‘certified organic’ are in a different category altogether.

A ‘certified organic’ label on food and cosmetics acts as a guarantee that a product has been tested and checked by an approved body.

In Australia, organic certification is performed by a number of different organisations accredited by the Department of Agriculture. These organisations, like Australian Certified Organic and Organic Food Chain are authorised by the government to administer certification to the same national organic standard.

A certified organic product is therefore guaranteed to be free-range, non-GMO, pasture-fed, water efficient and biodiversity friendly, as well as being free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics.

A ‘certified organic’ label on food and cosmetics acts as a guarantee that a product has been tested and checked by an approved body.

As the owner of Buchi Brew Co – a company that have been certified organic – Dr Lanz is well versed in the many hurdles manufacturers need to jump through for organic certification.

“We are very regulated,” says Dr Lanze. “As a manufacturer, we are tested and undergo an annual audit. They go through every single one of our plants and look at all the components.

“Our farmers are also tested. Everything is tested along the whole food chain to ensure there are no industrial chemicals and any produce that is certified is clean.”

Of course some products, which do not have the certification, are genuinely organic. There are plenty of valid reasons a company doesn’t want certification, from cost to the administration burden.

Companies with certified organic produce that import ingredients from overseas are also checked according to stringent rules.

“For example, we produce kombucha. We don’t have certified organic tea in the quantity we need to make it in Australia, so we import it from a certified place in Sri Lanka that practices biodynamic farming. We have to get their certificate and give it to the authorising body over here [to be checked, for the product to continue to be certified organic in Australia].”

Of course some products, which do not have the certification, are genuinely organic. There are plenty of valid reasons a company doesn’t want certification, from cost to the administration burden.

But if you’re looking for a certified organic product, here’s a few ways to ensure you’re getting the real deal.

1. Look for the term 'certified organic' and certified logos

Always closely read packaging labels when shopping for genuine certified organic goods. 

Dr Lanz warns that some companies falsely imitate certified organic logos or mix the words around on their labels – for example ‘organically certified Australia’– to trick customers into buying their product.

“Customers need to be discerning when they shop and be very clear on what logos and labels from certified bodies looks like and says.”

Shoppers should also become familiar with the various logos from the certifying bodies, to ensure what they are buying is a legitimately certified product.

Another logo that will help identify a product as certified organic is the 'bud' logo from the industry body, Australian Organic. It also guarantees the product is 100 per cent certified.

2. Look at the ingredients list

If you are buying a product that is packaged, read the ingredients lists to detect any unnatural components. This is also a good way to detect if 'organic' products from smaller companies that are not certified are the real deal.  

“Everything in the ingredients list of a certified organic product should be things you can eat that are grown in nature or on a farm," Dr Lanz says. "There are no artificial ingredients in certified organic produce so if the ingredients list has numbers in it, it’s not the real thing.”

3. If in doubt, ask

Dr Lanz also recommends shoppers ask their local farmer, stallholder or supermarket shop assistant about the validity of an organic produce claim.

“Most Coles, Woolworths and Aldis do have a certified organic section which is growing. They take it very seriously. So if you’re in doubt, just ask.

“There are a whole lot of marketing tactics going on out there so people always need to be conscious of that when they are shopping.”

September marks Australian Organic Awareness Month. Find out more information on Australian Organics. 

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