In a bid to curb the growing number of fraudulent claims, Standards New Zealand is to release a draft standard defining the organic food category. The draft will be published in May with the final definition expected by December.
Jim Kebbell, chairman of the organics committee at Standards New Zealand, said that it had always been hard to police the organic industry because growers were widely dispersed throughout New Zealand.
"Anyone can label their product organic because they know that if they do so they can command higher prices, but that product could have been grown without any reference to organic principles whatsoever," Kebbell said. Although the standard will be voluntary, Kebbell said there might be changes to the current legislation in the long term.
The NZ parliamentary committee set up to investigate organic agriculture has already called for a minimum standard to be set for organic produce, with a requirement that the farming be environmentally sustainable. Consumers should also be protected from fraudulent organic claims, it said.
Less than 1% of NZ farm land is organic, but the industry earns the country around NZ$60 million a year in exports. Overseas demand greatly exceeds New Zealand's ability to supply it and offers huge growth potential, according to industry sources.
The standards agency will study the safety of copper and sulphur sprays, routinely used in organic agriculture, in developing a national standard.