Consumer watchdog cracks down on ‘organic’ claims

Companies marketing their products as ‘organic’ are set to come under the microscope of the consumer watchdog after it fined one brand for misleading claims and issued a warning to others.

Dreamz Pty Ltd, trading as GAIA Skin Naturals, has paid almost $38,000 in penalties for its alleged false or misleading representations after an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into its products.

GAIA supplies a range of skin care and baby products through six distributors to supermarkets, pharmacies and baby shops throughout Australia, including Coles and Chemist Warehouse.

The company described its Natural Baby Bath & Body Wash, Baby Shampoo and Baby Moisturiser as “Pure – Natural – Organic”. However, these products were found to contain two synthetic chemical preservatives.

According to the ACCC, certification is not legally required for a product supplied in Australia to be described as organic. However, where a company describes its product as organic, it must ensure its representation is not false, misleading or deceptive.

ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said: “Businesses making organic claims must be able to substantiate those claims. GAIA’s claims may have misled consumers into thinking that these products are free from synthetic chemicals when they are not.

“Organic is a premium claim, designed to tell consumers ‘this is organic’, and often attracts a premium price.

“We were concerned that the use of the word organic says to a consumer, at a minimum, this is an organic product and this doesn’t contain any chemicals.

“In these products, there were a couple of synthetic chemicals, and that is sufficient to say this representation is misleading.”

The ACCC can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe a person has contravened certain consumer protection provisions of the Australian Consumer Law. However, the payment of a penalty specified in an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.

GAIA has responded by saying: “Whilst we do not believe that we have misled consumers; we have taken on board their feedback and will be making changes to our labelling to address their concerns.

“Our consumers are of paramount importance to us… and GAIA takes great pride in being able to produce quality skincare for the whole family.”

Targeting dodgy organic claims

The action taken against GAIA is part of a broader campaign by the ACCC to crack down on dodgy organic claims.

Acting on information from stakeholders, the ACCC says it has assessed the use of organic claims across a range of businesses and products, also identifying concerns with a small number of products made by Naturis Organic Breads which do not contain synthetic chemicals or preservatives, but do contain a mix of organic and non-organic ingredients.

Naturis Organic Breads is a supplier of bread products primarily to businesses based in NSW.

In response to the ACCC’s concerns, the company is said to have amended its website and the relevant product labels.

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