Changing a Farm to Organic

The decision for a farm to become organic is not an overnight process. Although it can be started at any time, organic farming requires much planning and forethought. Changeover to an organic business tends to be a transitional process that takes into consideration the state of the farm in its present condition and its suitability to organic farming methods. There are costs involved in changing over, but there can also be cost benefits.

  • Organic produce may be able to be sold at a higher price
  • Organic produce may be able to be sold into new or different markets, 

The type of organic classification the farm is pursuing (i.e. organic, biodynamic) will dictate what procedures, tests and methods must be used, and what time is involved. Anyone thinking of farming organically, should firstly start by contacting a local or national certification board to obtain guidelines on what is involved in converting all or part of a property to organic growing.

 
Other than the professional side of organic farming, there are legal requirements and ethical aspects to selling in the organic market therefore we should consider why organisations should develop an ethical approach in this industry.
 
The benefits of an ethical approach to organic production and manufacturing: 
 
  • Ethics help to create a shared vision.  A shared vision requires an organisation to understand its core values i.e.to is sure of its aims and direction both now and in the future. A shared vision improves employee satisfaction by helping employees feel that their organisation is carrying out a meaningful task and that they are in turn, carry out meaningful tasks to promote this vision. Sharing an organisation’s vision with outside world can also help it to attract customers, consumers and investors.
  • Ethics help an organisation to avoid risk and legal consequences. Ethics can help an organisation ensure it is operating within the law and avoid any financial penalties which may result from breaching the law. Legal action can take a wide variety of forms e.g. may be brought by a consumer an organisation has breached relevant standards and laws. Legal action may be financially devastating to an organisation e.g. due to the cost of compensation claims or damage to an organisations reputation.
  • Ethics help to meet consumer expectations and improve an organisation’s reputation. Research shows that customers prefer to deal with an organisation they trust. Organisations with clear ethical principles are also more likely to receive outside investment as most investors believe that it is safer to invest in a company that is ethical and trustworthy.
 
There are governmental, professional (e.g. advisory) and industry based regulation bodies that have been established around the world to carry out quality assurance monitoring of certified organic produce (as mentioned earlier these are certifiers). It is still however the responsibility of the producer to ensure they have quality assurance and therefore are not deceiving or misleading consumers. If the producer claims that a product is organic, they then have a legal and ethical obligation to the consumer to give them quality organic products – even if their region or country does not have an organic certification system in place.
 
 
What Consumer Law Tells Us – Self-Labelling
When organisations falsely claim an ‘organic’ nature of their produce then this may be able to be addressed under consumer law. Common misleading words also include natural, organic, chemical-free, pure, wholesome, real, raw, and pesticide-free.
 
Making false claims is considered illegal in consumer law. Sometimes wildly exaggerating claims such as the “the world’s healthiest vegetables!” are recognised as exaggerated and therefore consumer law will not support a complaint on the misleading nature of such statements. Consumer law becomes relevant when facts are stated which are untrue.
 
 
It is important to have an understanding of differences between common phrases used on food labelling. Not all organic terms mean the same thing:
 
  • 100% organic: this means all ingredients are completely organic containing no antibiotics, hormones, genetically engineered or synthesised products, and are free from pesticides or fertilisers
  • Organic: approximately 95% of the ingredients are generally approved as organic (with certifiers, applicable only if that system exists in your country)
  • Made with organic ingredients: some legislation states produce must contain at least 70% however, in some countries it can be with as little as 30%
  • Certified organic: where set standards have been met for the entire production and handling of produce and where the general public find information or assurance.
 
 
 
 
By contacting the peak body or central organisation (if there is one) for the country’s organic sector, people may be able to find details of organic certifiers which operate in their region, state or industry area. Remember that any organisation involved in organic production and manufacturing may have received certification from government or non-government linked organisation, or may be involved in organics in a research or advisory capacity. Not all organisations involved in organics are certifiers.
 
Some countries also have peak bodies which oversee the certifying agencies/organisations too!
Peak bodies or national organisations vary from time to time and country to country, but tend to be organisations such as: 
  • The Organic Federation of Australia
  • Organic Federation of Canada
  • Garden Organic in the UK