Organic food labelling in Australia: A 'Murky' Environment' in need of reform

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The Australian organic industry recently had a spotlight shone on it in the high profile Supreme Court of Western Australia case Marsh v Baxter (2014) 46 WAR 377. Martin J’s judgment described the Australian organic labelling framework as ‘a somewhat murky environment’ due to the use of ambiguous terminology, in particular the use of the terms ‘organic’ and ‘certified organic’.

The Australian organic food labelling framework is indeed murky. There are presently two standards operative in Australia that purport to outline the production and labelling requirements for organic produce. The application and enforceability of the standards is dependent on whether the organic produce is intended for exportation or the domestic market, or whether the produce has been imported into Australia. Organic produce intended for exportation must be ‘certified organic’, whereas organic produce intended for the domestic market or imported into Australia can be either ‘certified organic’ or merely labelled as ‘organic’.

The unclear position on organic labelling is incongruous with the otherwise strict food labelling requirements enforced in Australia in order to ensure consumers are adequately protected, informed and confident when purchasing and consuming food. The organic labelling regime does not lend itself to the formation of such consumer confidence within Australia. Instead, the current organic labelling regime in Australia appears to nurture consumer uncertainty, confusion and increased consumer vulnerability.

The lack of consistency and clarity within the Australian organic industry has had adverse effects on consumers, suppliers and the industry as a whole. The organic regulatory framework is in need of reform, namely the implementation of a solitary legally mandated organic standard, with a single organic identification mark.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-137
Number of pages14
JournalUniversity of Queensland Law Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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