Greenwashing a threat to Oz organic food industry: report

The latest Australian Organic Market Report has shown that our demand for organic produce has outstripped supply. The study, commissioned by Australian Organic, has shown that organic operations have grown five percent between 2015 and 2016 with 2,075 certified organic producers, 1,163 certified processors and 513 certified handlers in Australia in 2016. Researchers found there was a remarkable export growth of organic produce from Australia with exports seeing a phenomenal rise of 17 percent in 2016.

However, there are some threats to the industry, most notably the practice of “greenwashing”.

Australian Organic chairman Andrew Monk pointed this key challenge of poor labelling laws that allow non-certified producers to label themselves as selling organic food.

“It’s the one missing chink in the armour to protect consumers outright in terms of claims for organic,” Mr Monk told the ABC and went on to explain the loophole in Australian law that allows the practice.

The report said that while “two-thirds of organic shoppers rely on the word ‘organic’ on the product label to assure them it was organic”, it was the Australian labelling laws that allowed many non-certified companies to pass their produce off as organic. This is a practice called “greenwashing” and is a major threat to the organic industry it said.

Greenwashing is defined as a practice that non-organic produce companies perform to create the impression they adhere to basic organic principles — such as the use of no chemicals — when in fact they do not. According to Investopedia, it is a way to mislead customers and gain an economic advantage.

“Green washing is when a company, government or other group promotes green-based environmental initiatives or images but actually operates in a way that is damaging to the environment or in an opposite manner to the goal of the announced initiatives. This can also include misleading customers about the environmental benefits of a product through misleading advertising and unsubstantiated claims.”

Mr Monk outlined the ongoing struggle to get the federal government to legislate for stricter labelling laws saying it has diluted the good name of rest of the organic food industry as customers become aware of the practice and lose confidence.

“I think the challenge is that the [Federal] Government wants to push back on [the organic industry’s lobbying for tighter food labelling] … claiming that the industry is self-regulating very well and there is no systemic market failure,” Mr Monk said.

“Our response to that is there are still parts of the market that are not complying with those requirements and we would like the ACCC to take a more active stance in that space.”

Yet another negative aspect of greenwashing is that it reduces the incentive for companies to go fully green with their products. According to Southern Cross University lecturer Dr Jo Coghlan, in a 2011 article written for The Conversation, the practice had “serious consequences” with it having the potential to prevent a real change towards organic and green products.

If you’d like to comment about greenwashing’s potential effect on organic food production in Oz, or the AOMR in general, please go ahead either in our comments section of over at our Facebook Page.



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