Natural vs Organic: Is it a Gimmick?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wondered about the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ claims on products. Is there one? And if so, what is the difference?

What is a ‘natural’ claim?

The ‘natural’ claim is very vague. In fact, the Australian and New Zealand Food Standards Code does not define ‘natural’. 

Without any definition this means there is no regulation over the term or its use. The claim ‘natural’ could, therefore, be describing the ingredients, the culinary style of food or more. According to nutritionist Amelia Phillips, it can be as little as one natural ingredient that has been derived from a natural source which would allow manufacturers to label their product natural.

What is an ‘organic’ claim?

An organic claim, according to the Australian Competition & Food Consumer Commission (ACCC) is any claim that describes a product as organic, or the ingredients used to make the products organic. To us, as consumers, these claims look like “100% organic”, “made using organic ingredients” or “certified organic”. 

Australia is said to have strict rules and regulations regarding ‘organic’ labelling. However, according to Foodwise, these regulations are done by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service when produce is exported overseas. So the organic label isn’t regulated in the Australian domestic market as tightly.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a fact sheet on Labelling Organic Products which is a handy resource in further understanding organic labelling of products. However, because it is for organic product labelling in the United States and not Australia, it is important to keep in mind that rules and regulations in Australia may differ.

‘Organic’ Product Labelling Tricks

Because labelling within the Australian domestic market isn’t as strict it is for exports, companies can sometimes wrongfully call their products organic when they’re not. 

In fact, SBS in 2018 did an article on the topic of ‘genuine organic food’ and found a similar concern when they spoke to Dr Sarah Lantz, an ambassador for the non-profit organisation Australian Organic.

She told SBS that the label of ‘natural and organic’ can be put on products by any manufacturer. It might mean part of the product is natural or organic, but which parts? Nobody knows. 

It’s only ‘certified organic’ labels that guarantee a product has been tested and checked by an approved body. 

There are some products out there that are genuinely organic however they, unfortunately, don’t have the certified label — and this could be for many reasons, like cost. But the issue is, that we as consumers can’t know for sure unless it’s certified and labelled as so. 

What can consumers do?

Growing your own food is always the best way to really know what you’re eating, however, it’s not always a feasible solution for everyone. The second best option is getting to know your local farmers. To do this you can go to your local farmer’s markets and strike up a conversation about the produce. 

In terms of packaged products, however, it’s simply a matter of reading labels carefully and doing your research. In Australia, if you believe you’ve been misled with an organic product claim, you can submit a customer complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) here.

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