ACCC negotiates removal of misleading ‘organic’ water claims

16 July 2013

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission today announced seven suppliers of bottled water will remove ‘organic’ claims from labelling and marketing material. An eighth supplier has withdrawn its product from sale.

This followed negotiations between the ACCC and the manufacturers and has avoided resorting to enforcement action.

Active Organic, Lithgow Valley Springs Organic, Nature’s Best Organic, Organic Australia, Organic Falls, Organic Nature’s Best and Organic Springs have been renamed and new bottles are making their way on to the market.

Organic water

“Credence claims, which represent that a product possesses a premium attribute, are a priority for the ACCC; particularly those in the food and beverage industry with the potential to influence consumers and disadvantage competitors,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“Credence claims such as “organic” can be used to justify higher prices and create a competitive advantage for the user. As such it is essential that they are only used correctly.”

“Consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions that value the types of claims that directly affect the integrity of the product, such as where or how something was made, grown or produced.”

“Organic standards acknowledge that water cannot be organic. Any claim that particular water is organic would therefore be misleading or deceptive,” Ms Rickard said.
“Consumers must be able to trust that products match descriptions on labels so they can make informed purchasing decisions. Misleading credence claims can also undermine the level playing field and disadvantage other suppliers.”
A number of manufacturers argued that the word ‘organic’ was not a representation but part of the brand name. The ACCC rejects this argument.

“Manufacturers cannot hide misleading claims in their brand names,” Ms Rickard said.

The manufacturers identified have already begun supplying bottles with amended labels. The ACCC expects that organic claims will soon have largely disappeared from the labels of bottled water at retail outlets.

“Consumers who see other brands of bottled water featuring organic claims can contact the ACCC. Retailers who still have stock should contact their distributor.”

“The ACCC will continue to monitor the progress of the changes and will engage further with retailers and manufacturers if further work needs to be undertaken,” Ms Rickard said. 

The following table lists the manufacturers and brands covered by this announcement:

Manufacturer

Former Brand(s)

New Brand

Active Organic Beverages

Active Organic and Organic Nature’s Best

Active Original

DJ&A

Organic Australia

Australian Mountain

Intertrading

Organic Falls

Aquatic Falls

Lithgow Valley Springs

Lithgow Valley Springs Organic

Lithgow Valley Springs

Mt Aqua Distribution

Aqua Organic

Not applicable as withdrawn from sale

Sternwin / First Water Springs

Organic Springs

Original Springs

Water Wine & Juice

Nature’s Best Organic

Nature’s Best

Dew South

Dew South and Latitude 40°

Not applicable as organic claims were on website

Background

There is no support among Australian authorities for the notion that water can be organic, and a number of standards state that it cannot, including the mandatory standard covering exports. The word ‘organic’ in the context of food and drink refers to agricultural products which have been farmed according to certain practices. Water is not an agricultural product, and cannot benefit from such practices so it is not appropriate to use ‘organic’ to describe it. 

The ACCC’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy lists credence claims (claims that consumers cannot easily verify for themselves) as a new priority area.  While in this case there is no indication that consumers paid higher prices for ‘organic’ water than regular bottled water, consumers are often prepared to pay more for products that make credence claims which match their values. 

For further information visit www.accc.gov.au or call the ACCC Infocentre on 1300 302 502

Release number: 
165/13
Media enquiries: 
Mr Duncan Harrod - (02) 6243 1108 or 0408 995 408

Tags

Audience