So, as promised, I have started looking into it.
Firstly, Australia is different from the USA in that we don't have a federally run, compulsory certification system. What we do have is two standards, an export and a domestic standard (currently being worked on to produce one standard for both). The one covering the domestic market is AS6000 which "is a voluntary domestically relevant standard owned by Standards Australia" (source http://www.bfa.com.au/IndustryResources/BFAPublications/AustralianOrganicStandard.aspx).
Although voluntary "The Trade Practices Act 1974 can help to ensure that products being sold as 'organic' are in fact organic. Severe penalties can apply for selling non-organic produce as organic. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is a national agency responsible for enforcing the TPA. " (source http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/353297/Organic-Standards-and-certification-in-Australia.pdf).
The actual certification of organic farms/producers/products is managed by the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) who accredit third-parties to perform inspections and certifications.
For a more detailed, but still understandable, explanation of this system (in only two A4 pages) I recommend you read this document.
Right now there 7 organisations accredited to provide organic certification.
- AUS-QUAL Limited (AUSQUAL)
- Australian Certified Organic (ACO)
- Bio-Dynamic Research Institute (BDRI)
- NASAA Certified Organic (NCO)
- Organic Food Chain (OFC)
- Safe Food Production Queensland (SFQ)
- Tasmanian Organic-dynamic Producers (TOP)
Their standards may all vary slightly, but must all meet or exceed AS6000.
As you have to purchase Australian Standards, which in this case costs >$95 for the pdf version, I thought I would start by reading the standard behind one of the most recognised certification marks, the Australian Certified Organic Standard, owned by Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA). You might recognise their 'Bud' logo. If you want to do the same you can download it here.
I have had a fair bit of practice reading standards in my professional life, so am quite good at working out which bits are relevant to what I want, or need, to know. If you aren't as familiar then this might seem quite daunting, so you could try their "Guide to what is organic" a 22 page 'easy reference guide to the standards', rather than the technically worded 125 page (small print) full version. Then go to the standard itself for clarification or more in-depth information.
The sections of the standard I read were:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
BACKGROUND ON BFA
HOW TO USE THIS STANDARD
4 GENERAL PRODUCTION STANDARD – PRIMARY PRODUCTION
4.2. BROUGHT-IN MATERIALS, STOCK AND EQUIPMENT
4.4. WATER MANAGEMENT AND ECOLOGY
4.5. PEST, DISEASE AND WEED MANAGEMENT
4.6. HACCP BASED FARM FOOD SAFE
4.7. ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT AND SOCIAL POLICY
4.8. CONTAMINATION (CHEMICAL, GENETIC, PHYSICAL) SOILS AND PRODUCE AND BUFFER ZONES
5 LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION
5.2. POULTRY – MEAT AND EGG PRODUCTION
5.3. PORCINE (PIG) PRODUCTION
5.4. DAIRY PRODUCTION
5.5. CAPRINE (GOAT) PRODUCTION
5.6. MISCELLANEOUS INTENSIVE PRODUCTION ENVIRONMENTS
5.7. EXTENSIVE RANGELAND PRODUCTION
My choice was based on what I was most interested in, how the land and the animals are treated, I didn't feel the need to know the details of the paper trail etc. It is always important to read the scope and definitions first though, because sometimes words don't mean the same in technical documents as they do in ordinary conversation.
After reading these documents, I feel pretty confident that meat, eggs, dairy & flora certified under this Standard should come pretty close to meeting my understanding of organic - which covers a free range lifestyle for the livestock. The stocking rates, and housing requirements, are such that they "allow for natural behaviour and social interaction" (source http://www.bfa.com.au/Portals/0/Consumer_Standards_Final_2.pdf)
Over the next few weeks I'll endeavour to read at least a few of the standards on which other six agencies award their certification marks. Note - BFA also run the "Organic Growers of Australia" certification scheme, using the same ACOS standard. This one is designed specifically for "small scale organic producers" who sell "primarily to local or farmer's markets and at the farm gate" (source http://www.bfa.com.au/IndustryResources/OrganicCertification.aspx).
I'm finding this process interesting and educational.
I'd love to know if my 'summary' is interesting or of benefit to you at all too.