Natural vs Organic vs Certified Organic In Australia

Natural vs Organic vs Certified Organic In Australia

Natural vs Organic vs Certified Organic In Australia

By Greg Milham

There is currently a lot of confusion in the cosmetic and natural skin care market with many companies riding on the back of the growing swell of consumer support for organic products. A few years ago we had every manufacturer and marketer screaming “natural”‘ in fact so much so it was hard to find a brand that did NOT have the word natural on the label. More recently the word “organic” has become the new buzz word and superseded “natural” so the new definition of “natural” became organic for a lot of marketers and again many companies followed suit and began yelling it from the roof tops. But what does it all mean? Well nothing; anyone here in Australia can call themselves natural and organic as there is no body either government or private that polices these label claims. You can buy a product that has over 95% synthetic material and a very small amount of an organic herb and they could still have organic and natural noted all over the label.


Having just returned from the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim (US) it appears that the US has basically the same problem as we have here with many companies declaring they are organic with little or no certification. There are a number of companies now that are gaining organic certification for their products and some larger players now getting involved (“Origins Organics” now has 6 products that can carry the USDA organic logo”). However at the Expo these companies represented only a handful compared with the hundreds of companies that claimed to be natural and organic.

In the US to use the USDA Organic logo on the front panel the products need to have a minimum of 95% certified organic content (not including water and salt). This is similar to Australia where we need to have over 95% to call a product Certified Organic with no synthetic ingredients at all (this includes no nature identical). There are many certifiers world wide all with different standards for example Ecocert can allow a lower level of certified organic content and water and salt are allowed to be included in the calculation (Stella McCartney’s Skin Care (Ecocert approved) range has 6 products between 50% and 60% certified organic content and 2 products at 100%).

With claims that organic personal care products are having a record growth it is no wonder so many companies are keen to jump in. The real issue however remains how does the consumer differentiate between the hype and the facts. When you stand in front of a shelf of skincare products all screaming natural and/or organic, how do you make a decision and still be confident that what you have chosen is in fact what it claims to be and is not just a label claim by a clever marketer. Then on top of this how does the consumer identify between the standards set by the various certifying bodies around the world?

In Australia there is only ONE way to ensure you are buying a totally natural and organic product this is to look for the logo from an AQIS (Australian Quarantine Inspection Service) approved organic certification body. This Australian Government department sets guide lines and rules for skincare companies to abide by if they wish to export. To be certified organic a manufacturer must have his formulations and factory approved by an accredited certifying body. This means that all your products must be of natural origin and the organic ingredients MUST be certified and have the appropriate certificates to back this up. The manufacturer is regularly audited with factory inspections and the formulas checked to ensure that every ingredient complies with the legislation and is traceable back to the farm gate, which is certainly not the case with many of the products sold in Australia today. The legislations for organics changed in July last year and the National Standard for Organic and Bio Dynamic Produce now includes a section titled “Cosmetics and Skincare” which can be found on the AQIS website . Basically this sets out the rules and guidelines about what you can and cannot have in your products and what you can and cannot claim on the label. It also stipulates that preservatives can only be from natural sources and no fragrance or parfum may be used.

Shortly the laws will change in Australia and local production will need to meet the AQIS standards to use the word organic on the front panel. The police behind this will be Standards Australia and this legislation is due to come into force later this year in an effort to help crack down on misleading organic statements on products. This then raises other problems with certifying bodies around the world having different standards, in fact there are numerous Australian companies seeking certification outside Australia as they are unable to meet the high local standards set by AQIS, some companies also advise of their organic content but can not be certified in Australia due to non natural ingredients they use in their products.

There needs to be action on a global scale and the standards need to be set worldwide so all manufacturers and marketers operate on the same playing field with the same rules. It does seem rather pointless that there are many companies striving for high % organic content so they can carry an approved label and others that do not. For example there are certifying companies here in Australia that have reciprocal arrangements with their American, Japanese and European certifying companies so that by certifying through one body you can use the appropriate logo in each market. This of course only relates to the standards being at least the same or higher in that country. This happens in other regions as well “Origins Organics” use the USDA Organic label on the front panel in some markets and Ecocert in others markets

This issue does not only stop at the certification of finished products one of the problems here for the certifiers is to allow raw materials to be used that are certified by different standards in different countries in a certified organic finished product for the Australian market. Then there is also the issue of some countries NOT stipulating INCI raw material descriptions to be on their product labels adding further confusion to the consumer.

As formulators, manufacturers and marketers we all need to be involved to lift the bar so that the public has no doubt that the product they are purchasing labeled organic is just that.

We all should be striving for “truth within labeling” and the certifying authorities globally should be addressing the issue of standards outside their own country borders.

By Greg Milham


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2 thoughts on “Natural vs Organic vs Certified Organic In Australia

  1. Donald Nordeng

    The Ecocert Natural and Organic Cosmetic Standards require the percentage of organic ingredients to be declared on the label. A product that has less than 95% organic ingredients can not call itself “organic shampoo” for example. Please check out our cosmetics website for the actual information.


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