Certified Organic – What it Means & What to Look for when buying it.

Certified Organic – What it Means & What to Look for when buying it.

With the start of Spring comes Australian Organic Awareness Month, so what better time than now to learn about what the terms Organic and Certified Organic means when it comes to the food we eat and the products we use.

Becoming certified organic is dependent on the development and maintenance of a whole system approach. Organic production systems are guided by guidelines and standards set by a certifying body. For example, Australian Certified Organic (certifying body). Certified organic status requires a minimum prior period of three years of verified conformance with the set guidelines and standards for their industry. The standards are upheld by regular and random annual audits of certified organic companies and products holding organic certification. Each certifying body may have slight variations in their standards and regulations so I’ll be referring to the ACO in this post. You’ve probably seen their logo around.


Below are some of the requirements and guidelines that Australian Certified Organic growers and suppliers must abide by in order to become and maintain their organic certification. The Standard is reviewed every three years to ensure it meets industry expectations and changes with new practices and research. As mentioned above, the ACO conduct regular and random audits of certified organic companies and products holding organic certification, to ensure they are complying with the set guidelines and standards.

When you buy certified organic, you know you’re getting:

  • No pesticides, herbicides or synthetic chemicals
  • No chemical fertilizers
  • No Growth hormones and/or growth promotants are given or implanted into live stock or poultry.
  • Genetic Modification and their derivatives are banned
  • Certified organic livestock must graze on certified organic fields/pasture for their whole life. They may only be given certified organic food that is compatible with the animal’s diet such as hay to supplement cows if needed. This is common in periods or areas of drought where grass may be struggling to grow.
  • The use of antibiotics is banned. If livestock becomes sick, the farmer would need to ensure they get the care needed to become well. For example, if the vet deems antibiotics is necessary for a sick cow, this cow will get the treatment needed to become well but would not be eligible to be sold as certified organic.

Organic Farming

Organic Farming isn’t just about reducing harmful chemicals on/in our food and the products that we use. Organic farming builds healthy soil, reduces environmental exposure to pesticides and other harmful chemicals, which supports water health and water conservation. Below are some of the standards, guidelines, and views relating to the health of the soil, land, and water on and surrounding certified organic land and farms:

  • Healthy soil is the prerequisite for healthy plants, animals, and products. With organic farming, the care of a living soil and consequently the maintenance or improvement of soil structure, fertility and nutrient cycling is essential.
  • Sufficient organic material shall be returned to the soil by the recycling, regeneration and addition of organic materials and nutrients to increase, or at least maintain, the humus content.
  • The majority of nutrients shall be taken up by plants via humus colloids in the soil, rather than directly via water soluble salts. Plants shall therefore be supported by a viable and complex soil ecosystem that has an observable and sustainable food web with minimal reliance upon external inputs on a longer term basis.
  • Crop rotations aid long‐term soil fertility and ensure healthy plants. Operators shall include deep rooted and leguminous species within crop rotations. This helps to naturally replenish necessary nitrogen in the soil.
  • Livestock must be managed to avoid problems of overgrazing and erosion.
  • Water and agriculture are intricately linked. The harvest, storage, use and fate of waters are integral components of an organic farm. Management of water will include management of vegetation; soil and drainage on the organic farm in order prevent contamination and keep the soil, water, and vegetation healthy.
  • Water and waterways shall be managed, and where relevant monitored, by the operator in light of the broader ecology of the farming system, with a management focus on ensuring the protection, development and enhancement of natural water features (such as wetlands, catchment areas, streams and rivers) and a focus on healthy water management of contained waters such as dams and ring tanks.
Click here for more information on the Australian Certified Organic Standards 2017


As mentioned above, foods and products that are certified organic will have an organic certification logo on their packaging. However, some products/produce may not be packaged. For example, fresh produce at the markets. If there is a sign labelled “organic produce”, you can ask to see their certification and they should be able to provide that for you right then and there. Certification and the certified organic logo is how you can tell whether a product or produce is, in fact, certified organic.

Some products may only have certain ingredients that are organic and some produce and products may not be organic at all but have the word organic on the label. The definition of Organic matter (or organic material) is “matter that has come from a recently living organism. It is capable of decay, or is the product of decay, or is composed of organic compounds”. So you see the word organic can be used on produce and some products but it doesn’t actually mean it’s free from sprays and other nasty chemicals. This is why it’s a good idea to read the ingredients list on foods and products to check for any suspicious ingredients, even if organic is included on the label. There is a great app called Chemical Maze where you can search specific food additives and cosmetic ingredients to read how these may affect the body and body systems.

Some products and produce may be organic, natural and good for you without actually being certified. They may be in pre-approval of becoming certified or they may have chosen not to become certified. This is typically the case with a small business who have a steady and supportive clientele, who trust that they aren’t adding or using any nasty chemicals. I know many people who grow their own produce and make their own skin care using all certified organic and natural ingredients and choose not to become certified. Thus, if a product isn’t certified organic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not good for you or has nasty chemicals in it. However, if you’re not sure of the produce or product and you want to avoid the typical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, synthetic chemicals, chemical fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, etc. Then look for the certified organic logo.

Making More Informed Choices

If you’re looking to make better choices in regards to the quality of your food then I would recommend reading Cindy O’mearas book ‘Changing Habits Changing Lives’. Medical Research has consistently shown that many lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes are directly caused by an engineered and manipulated food supply focused on profit instead of health. What is alarming is that most people don’t even know they’re consuming these foods. ‘Changing Habits Changing Lives’ is an education about food. It shows you step by step, habit by habit how to break out of the bad habits of dieting and start eating and living a healthy life.