If I want to apply for certification through ACO, how can I do so?
If you’re interested in applying for certification, it is best you contact the office on (07) 3350 5716 or firstname.lastname@example.org (Monday-Friday, 8.30am-4.30pm) so we can discuss your operation and find out what category you would fall under (i.e. producer/processor/retailer). After contacting the office you will receive an Application Kit which includes all relevant application documentation, a current Fee Schedule and an electronic copy of the current ACO Standard.
I’m not certified, but I sell organic products. Can I use ACO’s or other organic logos?
No. ACO and any other certification logos are registered/trademarked and permission must be granted prior to use on any print and electronic media. However, for retailers and online stores the use of claims is restricted to only pages or products these claims refer to. E.g. Product packaging states ACO logo, website product description page can reiterate the information found on the packaging as long as this information is displayed in a manner where it cannot mislead consumers to believe the information also refers to other products.
What if I don’t use organic logos, can I claim my product is ‘organic’ even though I’m not certified?
The term ‘organic’ is currently not regulated in Australia, but this is not the case for other countries so check before you export! However, ‘certified organic’ is a regulated term in Australian labelling regulations, this means that if you want to use the term ‘certified’ anywhere on the product label (not necessarily in product name) the handling of the product must be in compliance with organic standards like ACOS, meaning the product must appear on an organic certificate and the label must be approved. If you are not certified yourself nor using certified manufacturers to produce / package/label your product, you cannot use the term ‘certified’ as you are not complying with the Australian labelling regulations.
I am already certified organic through another certification body in Australia – can I transfer to ACO and keep my certified status? What are the costs involved in transferring?
Yes, hassle free transfer is possible. If you can provide your current organic certificate and recent audit report along with application documents, we will waive the application fee and audit if your last audit has occurred in the last 3 months. Please contact the office to discuss your eligibility for transfer to ACO.
I am certified! When should I expect to hear from you in regards to my next annual audit? Do I need to submit any paperwork in advance?
You should receive an Annual Audit Notification letter 3-6 months prior to certificate expiry. Depending on your certification type, the Notification letter may include documentation you will be required to complete before the audit. The auditor will contact you approximately 8 weeks prior to certificate expiry to set a mutually suitable date and time for the audit.
When I’m certified, can I carry products with ‘Certified Organic’ claims as well as non-certified ‘organic’ claims?
No. The ACOS states that our clients ‘organic’ claims will refer to ‘certified organic’ products only. This is to ensure that consumers are not misled with clever labelling and marketing attempts. When you are certified as a business, any product with ‘organic’ or ‘certified’ claims must be approved by ACO and appear on your certificate.
Applying for certification can take 8 weeks, but I need it sooner! Can I fast track?
Yes! We offer a fast track option at an additional cost of $535.00. We will try to work with your time lines, however, it is important that you are organised and ready for this service. Lack of organisation and missing information can lead to delays in processing. You must contact the ACO office to discuss fast tracking your application prior to lodging and paying.
What’s the difference? Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and Australian Organic (AO)?
The Group is separated in to two distinct parts: the advocacy work that AO conducts on behalf of our members and clients including marketing, education and market access; and the certification services that ACO provides. Although the two companies work together, ACO as an accredited body is not directed or influenced by AO.
Why join ACO or AO?
We are Australia’s strongest Group for certification services, organic logo recognition and promoting organic movement. We also spend substantial effort on our member services, brand marketing and promotion, consumer education and industry development.
What markets should I be looking at?
You might be interested in both the domestic and international markets. ACO offers a range of services from Freshcare (on farm food safety) to meet supermarket requirements, to export certification including Japanese, US, Canadian, Chinese, Korean, IFOAM and European organic standards. It’s good to know upfront what markets you want to access, and remember to discuss this with ACO staff to make sure you bundle your services the right way. It is also important to speak with your prospective customers to ensure you can provide organic products to the standards they require. Please note that various markets, thus services, may have an impact on formulas for processed products, therefore it is important to plan ahead when formulating.
What is Organic Management?
This means understanding the fundamentals/principals/standards of organic management and reviewing the different standards involved in the markets that you are looking at selling to. Understanding how you will meet the requirements of different organic standards is one of the bases for achieving organic certification. It will be expected that you have a written plan for managing your organic business defining all aspects and related risks.
I already have a Quality Plan. Do I need to have another one for Organic?
If you have a current quality or safety plan it is best that you review this and incorporate organic into that, otherwise ACO can provide a template for your organic management plan. On this form you will be able to answer each question in regards to how you will manage your business in accordance with the Standard and the regulations required. This document is an integral part of your application and ongoing management of organic business.
So how much is this going to cost me?
Have you reviewed what services (standards) you wish to be certified under? Our Fee Schedule shows application costs for each service, annual renewal costs (for some services) and audit costs. As an example: ACO Application fee is $520 (waived if transferring) + initial audit fee (waived if transferring and had audit in last 3 months). Please note the following:
- Every location handling organic products must be audited at least once per year
- Multiple locations within a 20km radius can be bundled into a single inspection, meaning one inspection fee
- Multiple sites which are further than 20km or can be covered during a single audit will need a separate audit resulting in an additional audit fee
- Cost of domestic inspections range from $1005 – ~$1182 depending on how remote the site is
- International inspection costs are charged at a daily rate + travel costs as defined in the Fee Schedule. Please note that the travel costs tend to be split between various parties which are inspected during the travel period.
Lastly, in support of Australian Organic’s programs and services, ACO collects a tier-based Industry Development Levy (IDL), based on gross organic sales. This information is collected each year during inspection. Please refer to the Fee Schedule for IDL information.
What can I expect during the application process?
Once you have lodged your paid application, the following steps will be undertaken:
- ACO will process and review your application documents once payment is confirmed. If we require additional information we will contact you.
- The office will organise the initial onsite audit with one of our registered auditors.
- The allocated auditor will contact you to arrange a time and date for the Inspection. You must be ready to present any requested documents related to organic production such as balance sheets, purchase and sales records, ACO approvals and derogations, production records, etc. You must be ready to visit all sites and provide the auditor the opportunity to take samples and/or photos should they request.
- Once the auditor lodges their audit report with ACO, the report will be reviewed. Your results along with a copy of the report will be sent you to. Any non-conformances (corrective actions) will need to be responded to sufficiently within the noted time frame.
- If no major non-conformances are found post review, your unique certification logo(s) will be issued to you for design purposes. All designed packaging and marketing materials need to be submitted to ACO for formal approval prior to printing.
What is covered during my audit?
Requests and requirements may differ based on type of operation and services applied for. The auditor has the right to request any documentation related to organic management, and it is important the information is well managed so that it can be easily retrieved during audit (delays during audit can incur additional hourly fees). Important areas which are covered during audit:
- Product list, formulas, ingredients/suppliers certificates
- Labelling / signage/ flows/ maps
- Segregation- preventing contamination
- Traceability and record keeping – balancing and reconciling
- Pest control and cleaning – procedures and products used
- Inputs – crop and livestock products
- Contamination risk (Risk Assessment) – how risks are managed
- Soil or product testing – sampling
- Management ability – training, information flow
- How well all of the above are covered in the Organic Plan
I have noticed many businesses claiming to be organic but they are not certified, what does ACO do about this?
Unfortunately there is no regulation around the word “organic” in Australia, meaning that anyone growing produce or making a product can claim organic as long as they’re using natural methods or using at least one natural ingredient.
If a business is claiming their product to be “certified organic”, when in fact they aren’t, this is something ACO takes seriously and can follow up on. If a product is claiming to be certified organic, always remember to look for a certification logo to prove its status.
Where can I find certified organic produce/products?
The Australian Organic website provides a Where to Buy Certified Organic? section under the Consumers tab. Within this section you’re able to specify what state in Australia you’re in to narrow your search. Search www.austorganic.com.
If you’re in business and looking for supply of particular produce/products/ingredients, our Product Search on the ACO website is a fantastic tool and provides you access to ACO’s entire client database. Find the Product Search tool at www.aco.net.au.
I purchased a product from a supermarket recently and it has the ACO logo on the label, but the product is imported from China. How can it have the ACO logo on the product?
ACO will certify imported products only if they are already certified to a major, recognised and compatible Standard. Based on this it can be assumed that the product has been grown/ handled similarly to how a product is handled in Australia. ACO verifies this by randomly testing imported products for common contaminants such as pesticides/ insecticides and synthetic compounds.
Does ACO test products imported from outside Australia?
Yes. ACO has clients outside of Australia which are audited and tested (soil, water and product) during annual audits. Also, imported products are tested randomly as well as strategically based on known issues, recent contaminations and industry notices.
When will I receive my unique certification number and logo?
Your certification number will be issued once you are granted In Conversion status (it will appear on your In Conversion certificate).
How long does the conversion process take?
Becoming certified as a producer can take anywhere from 12 months up to 3 years taking into consideration the following time frames:
- Pre-Certification – has the land been managed as ‘compliant’ to an organic Standard for the last 3 years leading up to your organic application? If yes, and you are able to show paddock history, and test results are negative for contaminants, In-Conversion (IC) status can be granted. If the property is deemed as contaminated or historic evidence cannot be demonstrated/proven, the initial 12 months must be managed as per organic rules without certification. The site will be reassessed at your second audit.
- In Conversion (IC) period: Minimum 12 months based on prior history, this is your time to show us that you understand the requirements and can manage organically. Example: the property has been managed and has not been treated in any way for 10 years – IC is granted and the property must be managed as organic for following 12 months. At second audit, soil tests will show again if there are any contaminants, if negative, ‘organic’ status is granted.
- Certified organic: The operator is now able to claim they are ACO certified and products can bare the ACO logo for relevant service/ Standard applied for. All claims must be formally approved by ACO.
I have bought recently cleared land which has not been farmed before, can I become certified quicker?
Where it can be verified that there have been no conventional farming practices previously through records and declarations for a period of 36 months, the area may be eligible for In Conversion status after the initial audit. The area still needs to go through a minimum 12 months in In Conversion period prior to being reviewed for Certified Organic status.
Do you have a list of allowed fertilisers/composts/livestock feed supplements that I can use on my organic property?
Yes. Australian Organic has a registered input program which verifies compliance of farming inputs to the ACOS. A full list can be found here or on the ACO Product Search, just select “Advanced Search” and certification service “Allowed Inputs”.
Please note the following important points:
- The Australian Certified Organic Standard (ACOS) under Annex 1 and 2 lists generic materials which are allowed or restricted for use.
- Allowed inputs are deemed to be compliant to the ACOS and National Organic Export Standard, if you are also certified to other Standards you need to seek ACO approval to use any input.
- It is important that you declare all inputs prior to using them in case they do not meet one or more Standards you are certified to.
- Use of inputs is restricted based on demonstrated need and approval by ACO.
What is the difference between ruminant livestock that are managed organically compared to livestock that can be sold for slaughter as organic?
Under the requirements of a number of organic Standards, ruminant livestock held on organic property must be managed in accordance with the organic Standards from the last trimester of gestation for the progeny to be sold for slaughter as organic. It is often common for livestock operators to have a breeding herd that is managed organically but cannot be sold for slaughter as organic because they were not born on certified land or were on farm before the farm became certified.
When will I receive my unique certification number and logo?
Your certification number and logo will be issued once you have been granted organic certification and will appear on your first organic certificate.
Do I need to submit my labels for review?
Yes – once you receive your unique ACO logo and have incorporated it on to your labels, you must submit the labels for approval. Please refer to the Fee Schedule for these costs.
How long does it take to become certified?
The time frame between beginning the Initial Document Review and receiving your first Compliance Certificate can be approximately 6-8 weeks, assuming all documents are completed appropriately, no corrective actions are raised at review or audit stages and a mutually suitable date can be set between yourself and the auditor.
In order to claim “certified organic” on my product, it needs to meet a minimum of 95% certified organic ingredients – does that mean the remaining 5% can be conventional ingredients?
No. Certified organic ingredients need to be used first and foremost where available in commercial quantities required. If you cannot source a specific ingredient as certified organic then you may request for derogation for the inclusion of this ingredient into the formulation. The ingredient must still comply with the requirements of the organic Standards e.g. non-gmo, non-synthetic, non-irradiated, non-nano, etc. ACO reviews all ingredients used in products to ensure they comply with the organic Standards.
Do you have any resources to assist me in searching for organic ingredients?
You can search for organic ingredients, products and a full client list via the ACO Product Search on the ACO website (using the ‘Advanced Search’).
Am I allowed to use “natural” ingredients that are not certified organic?
Natural ingredients in certified organic products are restricted and can be used based on necessity and organic availability. All natural ingredients that are not listed in the ACO Standard as allowed must be evaluated and approved by ACO as meeting the below requirements to be allowed:
- Not available as certified organic (if it is available as certified organic it cannot be approved as a natural ingredient);
- It can only make up a maximum of 5% of the total product to be called certified organic;
- Non-genetically modified;
- Not tested on animals;
- Produced naturally without the use of prohibited processing aids and additives
- Natural flavours must be classified as natural under the Foods Standards Australia New Zealand section 1.3.1. 11(b).
Natural ingredients are to be submitted to ACO via our online questionnaire.
Can I purchase organic bulk/raw materials/ingredients from a non-certified wholesaler/importer/ trader? They are able to provide me with their supplier certificate.
No. Certified organic products must be sourced from certified organic operators. All stages of the supply chain must be certified.
Once I get a formula approved, do I need to inform ACO when I change an ingredient supplier/add multiple suppliers/revise formula?
Yes. Not all ingredients are made equal. Any changes to your suppliers, ingredients and/or ingredient quantities must be reported to ACO for formal approval as this may also impact the organic % and therefore labels.
I am a wholesaler. Once I become certified, do I need to inform ACO if there is a change in supplier(s) or to add new products?
Yes – if you are changing suppliers, adding suppliers or new products you must notify ACO. We will verify your supplier(s) to ensure they are certified organic to a Standard ACO recognises. Adding new products is easy and provides your customers with an up to date product listing they can trust as being certified organic.
When do I submit my recipe(s) for assessment?
When applying for certification, formulas/ recipes should be completed using the ACO template and submitted with your ACO Certification Application.
If you are an existing certified operator, you should submit product applications well before you need to start production to allow time for review of ingredients. If you start manufacturing the new product prior to formal approval being granted, the risk is if the formula needs to be adjusted due to non-compliance, the manufactured product will not be permitted to be sold as certified organic.
How do I know what claims can be made on labels and marketing material?
Rule number one, do not print prior to formula and label approval. Jumping the gun can be costly.
The product labels need to follow labelling regulations of the country the product will be sold in. However, here are a few points for what you can claim in addition:
- You can claim your company is certified with ACO, placing of this claim is key.
- You can claim the organic status and/or % as per your approval letter.
- All certified organic ingredients in the ‘Ingredients table’ must be identified (e.g. *Certified organic by ACO).
- Use of ACO logo is not mandatory, however certification details must be included on labels ( ACO certified 1234), this includes cases of “Made with..” claims where logo is not permitted to be used.
- Products over 95% certified organic content as per approval can be labelled ‘organic’ or ‘certified organic’ on the front of the product, and the logo can be displayed on the front too!
- Products under 95% certified organic content cannot be labelled ‘organic’ or ‘certified organic’ on front, the regulated claim is ‘Made with certified organic ingredients’. The ACO logo cannot be used.
- Products under 70% certified organic content are not certifiable however if you choose to identify ingredients as ‘organic’ or ‘certified organic’ you must have this verified and approved.