Soil & Health is celebrating that the Fair Trading Act is being interpreted to mean that products called organic should be certified organic, following the release last night of Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s Review Report, again recommending the introduction of folic acid fortification to all but organic bread.
“The recommendation appears to mean that foods labelled ‘organic’, but not certified to be organic, will not be exempt. FSANZ has said that foods labelled ‘natural’ will not be exempt as they are not subject to certification criteria. However organic foods are to be exempt, as there are certification criteria against which they can be checked”, said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.
The FSANZ Review states;
Exemption of wheat bread-making flour represented as ‘organic’ will allow the organic milling and bread industry to comply with fair trading legislation, which takes precedence over the Code.
* FSANZ consulted the New Zealand Commerce Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on the status of products labelled ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ under mandatory fortification in relation to fair trading legislation.
* Under fair trading legislation mandatorily fortified foods would not be able to be labelled as ‘organic’ or ‘all natural’.
* It is proposed that foods represented as ‘organic’ be exempt from mandatory fortification.
Foods labelled ‘natural’ will not be exempt from mandatory fortification as there is no certification criteria for ‘all natural’ foods, and manufacturers are able to use labelling descriptors which indicate the type of product without misleading consumers.
“This is a long awaited and clear message that anything from pork to pickles, if it’s to be called organic, it is on the premise that it is certified organic”, said Browning. “This is significant for consumers who are too often sold products as organic, even though the producer is not subject to any checks that their claim is authentic, and comes at a time when access to organic certification has never been easier.”
“The recently launched Organic Advisory Program, managed through Organics Aotearoa New Zealand, is currently assisting producers with a subsidised consultancy to convert to organics. BioGro New Zealand, Organic FarmNZ, Demeter, Agriquality, or Te Waka Kai Ora, can all give consumer assurances not available with uncertified produce,” said Browning. “ The potential use of Standards New Zealand’s National Organic Standard as the minimum requirement for organic production also needs exploring,” he added.
The proposed changes to the draft variations to the Food Standards Code
a) require the mandatory addition of folic acid to wheat flour for bread-making;
b) exempt wheat flour for bread-making represented as ‘organic’ from this requirement;
c) retain the voluntary permissions that allow voluntary fortification of non-wheat breads and flours;
d) allow a transition time of two years for implementation.
This is expected to reduce the number of Neural Tube Defect (NTD)-affected pregnancies by a further 14-49 (or up to 14%) in Australia and by 4-14 (or up to 20%) in New Zealand. NTD’s often present as spina bifida.
“ Soil & Health is hopeful that the folic acid education program, to educate about spina bifida risks and prevention, also recommended by FSANZ, will put significant emphasis on a complete and preferably organic diet. Certified organic food disallows pesticides linked with birth defects, and nutritional properties including folate are generally superior”, said Browning.
Soil & Health had submitted to the FSANZ Issues Paper;
“Soil & Health has some degree of concern that foods labelled ‘natural’ may not be exempt, however unless those foods are reasonably certain to be pesticide and additive residue free, as expected with organic foods, the ‘natural’ claim may be spurious.
Foods labelled ‘natural’, are without the benefit of standards and certification processes as in the organic sector, however should a food supplier be able to provide evidence of the ‘naturalness’ of its product, for example wild harvested and organic ingredients with no synthetic additives, Soil & Health would expect that it should also be exempt.”
The exemption for organic bread will give all consumers a choice of a fortification free product while still accessing a healthy option. In Australia, Trades Practices Act 1974; In New Zealand Fair Trading Act 1986.