The Organic Products Bill 2020 – a proposed regime to regulate New Zealand’s organic farming industry
The Organic Products Bill is now before the Select Committee after passing its first reading in Parliament. This Bill seeks to impose national standards on all businesses seeking to market their products as organic.
The Bill was introduced in response to the recent growth of the New Zealand organic goods sector (a 30% increase from 2015 to 2018), a sector which is currently regulated under a hotchpotch of non-specific laws and private standards.
The Bill seeks to introduce a comprehensive and mandatory regime to regulate the standards of organic products. Standards will need to be complied with by all businesses that market their products as organic and will apply in the context of domestic sales, and international imports and exports.
It is intended that this new regime will:
- increase consumer confidence in purchasing organic products;
- increase certainty for businesses making claims that their products are organic; and
- facilitate international trade in organic products.
What does ‘organic’ mean?
The Bill does not provide a definition of ‘organic’ but instead provides a framework under which regulations may be set by the relevant ministry to establish organic standards for products or classes of products.
This means the definition of ‘organic’ will depend on the relevant product standard in place and will likely be set by the ministry most relevant to the particular type of business.
What types of products will the Bill apply to?
Early indications suggest that the classes of products to which the Bill will apply include food and beverages, animal and plant products (including live animals and wool), and possibly aquaculture, and cosmetics. The growth of demand for organic goods will likely see this range of categories broaden further under the new regime.
What activities will the Bill apply to?
The Bill prohibits a person from describing or advertising a product as an ‘organic product’ if the product in question does not comply with the relevant organic standard.
Regulations for organic standards may relate to the following:
- the production, processing, and preparation of organic products;
- the packing, storage, and handling of organic products;
- requirements for sampling and testing of products;
- obligations to keep records and to provide information; and
- any other matters relevant to the management of whether the product can be described as an organic product.
Implications for businesses:
Any person seeking to market a product to which an organic standard applies as ‘organic’ will require approval as an ‘operator’. This will involve an application to the relevant ministry chief executive, who will assess whether the person applying is a ‘fit and proper’ person and whether their product complies with the relevant organic standard and any other prescribed requirements.
All approved operators and entities will be listed on a public register and will be permitted to use a ‘national mark’ on their products, certifying that all requirements have been met.
Approved operators will be subject to ongoing verification through regular testing and review by recognised agencies. Operators failing the relevant standard or failing to provide the necessary evidence of compliance, may have their approval suspended. If, during suspension, the issues have not been rectified, the relevant chief executive may withdraw operator status. This would result in the business being unable to use the term ‘organic’ to describe its product and being found to have committed an offence if it continues to do so.
How will the regime be enforced?
The Bill proposes the appointment of an ‘organic products officer’, who will have the power to enter premises with or without a search warrant, to test samples and to issue ‘improvement notices’ to non-complying operators.
Several new offences are proposed, including:
- infringement offences (which will be prescribed in regulations yet to be released);
- offences involving deception; and
- strict liability offences, including:
- where there has been the sale of a non-compliant product described as organic;
- where there has been the sale of an organic product by a person not approved as an operator; and
- where a person has exported an organic product without approval.
The Bill has proven controversial within the industry and is likely to undergo a number of changes before passing into law. The Select Committee is currently reviewing the public submissions and will make recommendations for amendment.
Want to know more?
If you have any questions about how The Organics Products Bill might affect your business, please contact our specialist Rural and Agribusiness Team.
This article was included in our 3rd edition of Rural. which you can read here.