Frequently Asked Questions

Certification Questions

If you’re interested in applying for certification, it is best you contact the office on (07) 3350 5716 or info@aco.net.au (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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 on-site 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.

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

Certified Organic a products and/or businesses must undergo yearly on-site audits to ensure that the Standards are met. Our international clients are held to the same expectations as our local clients and we have auditors who travel internationally to ensure the integrity of this is maintained.

Operator Questions

Primary Production

Please click the following links for more information on:

How to add a new Label for my Certified Product.

How to add a new Product to my Certificate.

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.

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 Conversion period prior to being reviewed for Certified Organic status.

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”

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.

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.

Processors/Handlers/Wholesalers/Contract Processors

Your certification number and logo will be issued once you have been granted organic certification and will appear on your first organic certificate.

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.

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.

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.

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’).

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:

  1. Not available as certified organic (if it is available as certified organic it cannot be approved as a natural ingredient);
  2. It can only make up a maximum of 5% of the total product to be called certified organic;
  3. Non-genetically modified;
  4. Non-irradiated;
  5. Non-fumigated;
  6. Non-nano;
  7. Not tested on animals;
  8. Produced naturally without the use of prohibited processing aids and additives
  9. 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.

No. Certified organic products must be sourced from certified organic operators. All stages of the supply chain must be certified.

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.

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 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.

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.

Our Service Desk is used for assessments, you can use this resource to submit additional products, labels, Inputs, Suppliers or Recipes for assessments. Your submission should include:

  • Your Certification Number
  • What type of Assessment it is (eg product, label, etc)
  • Your business name
  • Updated Product Spreadsheet and Supplier’s Certificate.

You can email an administration officer to change the names of your products when needed, provided the recipe does not change. Simply state no other changes are to be made to the product so we know an assessment is not required. Let us know the old name and the name you would like it changed to and we will complete these changes and issue an updated Certificate.

If the recipe or suppliers change an assessment will be required and you will need to submit the product spreadsheet to the Service Desk to do this.