The more popular organic products become, the greater the risk that fraudulent operators will ride on the coat-tails of genuine certification, the head of Australia’s organic farmers’ industry body warned after securing an injunction against a company that had done just that.
Speaking after winning a case in the Federal Court against Kings Court Vineyards, which had claimed its produce was certified organic by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture (Nasaa), Ben Copeman, the association’s general manager, said that legal action was essential to protect both producers and consumers.
“We want to defend the value of our members’ brands. When someone inaccurately claims to have certification, it affects the value of real operators who maintain their integrity. It also impacts consumers who are unaware that what they have bought is not in fact organic,” Copeman told FoodNavigator-Asia.
Nasaa asserted that it had never certified Kings Court Vineyards and would be seeking the maximum claimable in costs against the vineyard's operators, Zeno and Duran Ayhan.
Truth in labelling
Copeman said Nasaa would continue to rigorously pursue any producer fraudulently claiming organic certification.
“We are prepared to take similar action to protect our integrity, certification process and brand against any business claiming to be certified organic when it is not,” he said.
“This case is not only about Nasaa protecting its brand and reputation but also about defending the brand value and integrity of our certified operators. Our certified operators spend many thousands of dollars to maintain their certification, perfect their organic products and grow their brands and images.
“Certified organic produce commands a premium from consumers who choose to eat food that is free of synthetic fertiliser and pesticideresidues, or genetically modified organisms. That premium only exists, however, if the consumer can trust the integrity of the organic label.
“Only by enforcing truth in labelling and ensuring producers are, in fact, certified when they claim to be, can the Nasaa Certified Organic label live up to its ideal. We have zero tolerance for conventional operators calling themselves organic and making use of counterfeit certificates.”
Copeman added that the association would be now suing for legal costs of upwards of A$25,000 (US$23,300), but more important than the money would be the damage the case would do to Kings Court’s reputation.
“We could have also sued for damages, but [Kings Court] couldn’t afford its own legal costs. We wanted to seriously damage them in the market, which is essentially what we have achieved. Judging by the press attention after the case, everyone is going to know about these guys and be extremely wary about doing business with them in the future,” Copeman said.
Peers blow whistle
Earlier this year, a number of organic wholesalers in Sydney and Melbourne alerted Nasaa that Kings Court Vineyards was claiming to be certified organic by Nasaa when it was not.
In June, Nasaa sought an injunction in the Federal Court of Australia to stop Kings Court Vineyards from claiming it was Nasaa certified and from using the Nasaa Certified Organic label on its products.
Zeno and Duran Ayhan have signed undertakings to “destroy all physical copies of the fraudulent document that purports to be (but is not) a Certificate of Registration issued by Nasaa; and to delete all electronic copies of that fraudulent document”.
The signed undertakings also unconditionally forbid Zeno and Duran Ayhan from ever again claiming Nasaa certification or labelling its products as Nasaa certified unless they gain genuine certification in the future.