Legislation of benefit to organic industry: lawyer


Last week my colleague Vicky McKenzie wrote of the need for flexibility to encourage fledging organic producers. 

The organic movement in New Zealand agriculture is growing. This growth is driven by consumers who are now demanding organic produce resulting in more farmers committing to organic production.

While this approach is assuring, to put things into perspective, organic is a certification that can very easily be abused. Organic handlers, processors and retailers follow voluntary standards to maintain the integrity of organically produced products. However, there is no specific legislation regulating what is considered organic or who can apply to have their product certified as organic, and imposing sanction on those that do not comply.

Organic products sold in New Zealand must only meet the standard regulatory requirements for the type of product (for example, under the Food Safety Act 2014) and comply with the Fair Trading Act 1986 in respect to using the term ‘organic’ in labelling and marketing claims. There is no specific requirement relating to the certification standard or the standards each certifying authority must reach.

A quick google search delivers a handful of international and national organics certification authorities that New Zealand businesses can apply to, to ensure that their product carries the organic certification.  It would be presumptuous to think New Zealand consumers were aware of each authority’s criteria, different levels of organic certification and processes. There now needs to be specific legislation that clearly defines the standards to be achieved, and consequences for non-compliance.

As things currently stand, there is also an uneven playing field. As Vicky McKenzie mentioned in her article, whilst organic food producers must comply with current organic certification standards, it is very easy for others to simply call their products ‘organic’ and sell these at farmers markets, and the like, with very little regulatory oversight. 

While those new to the organic market might complain about prohibitive regulation and compliance costs, both producers and consumers stand to benefit in the long run from a quality product. 

In order to create a meaningful standard in our organic farming industry, it is important for New Zealand to create and enforce regulations and legislation that promotes natural alternatives to ensure a sustainable industry, rather than relying on the organic certification process. 

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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