|Certification for Organic -
- Organic certification - is a certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. In general, any business directly involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, food processors, retailers and restaurants. Requirements vary from country
to country, and generally involve a set of production standards for
growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:
|avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc) and genetically modified organisms;
use of farmland that has been free from chemicals for a number of years (often, three or more);
keeping detailed written production and sales records (audit trail);
maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products;
undergoing periodic on-site inspections.
|Certified organic producers are also subject to the same agricultural, food safety and other government regulations that apply to non-certified producers.
|Purpose of certification - Organic certification addresses a growing worldwide demand for organic food. It is intended to assure quality and prevent fraud.
For organic producers, certification identifies suppliers of products
approved for use in certified operations. For consumers, "certified
organic" serves as a product assurance, similar to "low fat", "100%
whole wheat", or "no artificial preservatives".
It is important to note that certification is essentially a marketing
initiative, aimed at regulating and facilitating the sale of organic
products to consumers. Individual certification bodies have their own service marks, which can act as branding to consumersa certifier may promote the high consumer recognition value of its logo as a marketing advantage to producers, although it represents certification to identical organic standards as its competitors.
Certification standards and organic laws do not affect existing agricultural policies or legislation.
|The certification process - In order to certify a farm, the farmer is typically required to engage in a number of new activities, in addition to normal farming operations:
|Study - the organic standards, which cover in specific detail
what is and is not allowed for every aspect of farming, including
storage, transport and sale.
|Compliance - farm facilities and production methods must
comply with the standards, which may involve modifying facilities,
sourcing and changing suppliers, etc.
|Documentation - extensive paperwork is required, detailing
farm history and current set-up, and usually including results of soil
and water tests.
|Planning - a written annual production plan must be
submitted, detailing everything from seed to sale: seed sources, field
and crop locations, fertilization and pest control activities, harvest
methods, storage locations, etc.
|Inspection - annual on-farm inspections are required, with a physical tour, examination of records, and an oral interview.
|Fee - an annual inspection/certification fee (currently
starting at $400-$2,000/year, in the US and Canada, depending on the
agency and the size of the operation).
|Record-keeping - written, day-to-day farming and marketing records, covering all activities, must be available for inspection at any time.
|In addition, short-notice or surprise inspections can be made, and
specific tests (e.g. soil, water, plant tissue) may be requested.
For first-time farm certification, the soil must meet basic
requirements of being free from use of prohibited substances (synthetic
chemicals, etc) for a number of years. A conventional farm must adhere
to organic standards for this period, often, three years. This is known
as being in transition . Transitional crops are not considered
fully organic. A farm already growing without chemicals may be
certified without this delay.
Certification for operations other than farms is similar. The focus
is on ingredients and other inputs, and processing and handling
conditions. A transport company would be required to detail the use and
maintenance of its vehicles, storage facilities, containers, and so
forth. A restaurant would have its premises inspected and its suppliers
verified as certified organic.
|Certification and Product Labelling - The official seal of USDA certified organic foods - USDA organic seal
The official seal of USDA certified organic foods.
- Being able to put the word "organic" on a food product is a valuable
marketing advantage in today's consumer market. Certification is
intended to protect consumers from misuse of the term, and make buying
organics easy. However, the organic labelling made possible by
certification itself usually requires explanation.
In the US, federal organic legislation defines three levels of
organics. Products made entirely with certified organic ingredients and
methods can be labelled "100% organic". Products with 95% organic
ingredients can use the word "organic". Both may also display the USDA
organic seal. A third category, containing a minimum of 70% organic
ingredients, can be labelled "made with organic ingredients". In
addition, products may also display the logo of the certification body
that approved them. Products made with less than 70% organic
ingredients can not advertise this information to consumers and can
only mention this fact in the product's ingredient statement. Similar
percentages and labels apply in the EU.
|Certification around the world - In some countries, organic standards are formulated and overseen by the government. The United States, the European Union and Japan
have comprehensive organic legislation, and the term "organic" may be
used only by certified producers. In countries without organic laws,
government guidelines may or may not exist, while certification is
handled by non-profit organizations and private companies.
EU countries acquired comprehensive organic legislation with the implementation of the EU-Eco-regulation 1992. Certification is handled on the national level.
|Certification In the United Kingdom, organic certification is handled by a number of organizations, of which the largest are the Soil Association and Organic Farmers and Growers. All the certifying bodies are subject to the regulations of the UK Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS), which itself is bound by EU legislation.
|Certification In Sweden, organic certification is handled by the private corporation KRAV.
|Quality Assurance International is the largest private certifier of organic food systems.
|In the US, the National Organic Program (NOP), was enacted as federal legislation in Oct. 2002.
It restricts the use of the term "organic" to certified organic
producers (excepting growers selling under $5,000 a year, who must
still comply and submit to a records audit if requested, but do not
have to formally apply). Certification is handled by state, non-profit
and private agencies that have been approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Quality Assurance International
(QAI), a private US corporation with a partner in Japan, Ecocert-QAI
Japan Ltd., is the largest organic certification body in the United
One of the first organizations to carry out organic certification in North America was the California Certified Organic Farmers, founded in 1973.
In Canada, the government
has published a national organic standard, but it is a guideline only;
legislation is in process. Certification is provided by private sector
organizations. In Quebec, provincial legislation provides government oversight of organic certification within the province, through the Quebec Accreditation Board ( Conseil D'Accrétation Du Quéc ).
In Japan, the Japanese Agricultural Standard (JAS) was fully implemented as law in April, 2001.
In Australia, the organic certification system is administered by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service
(AQIS). As of 2006, there are seven AQIS-approved certifying
organisations authorised to issue Organic Produce Certifcates, and in
2004 there were 2345 certified operators. The largest importer of
Australia's organic produce (by weight) is Japan (33.59%), followed by
the UK (17.51%), France (10.51%), and New Zealand (10.21%). The largest certifier of organic products is Australian Certified Organic, which is a subsidiary of Biological Farmers Australia, the largest organic farmers' collective in the country.
Internationally, equivalency negotiations are underway, and some
agreements are already in place, to harmonize certification between
countries, facilitating international trade. There also international certification bodies, including members of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), and Ecocert.
Where formal agreements do not exist between countries, organic product
for export is often certified by agencies from the importing countries,
who may establish permanent foreign offices for this purpose. Ecocert
is the world's largest organic certification organization with offices
in 20 countries, and operating in over 85 countries. They certify over
40,000 farms and companies worldwide.
|Certification issues - Organic certification is not without its critics. Some of the staunchest opponents of chemical-based farming and factory farming
practices, also oppose formal certification. They see it as a way to
drive independent organic farmers out of business, and to undermine the
quality of organic food.
|Obstacle to small independents - Originally, the organic food industry was built mainly by small, independent farmers, selling locally. Organic "certification" was a matter of trust, based on a direct relationship between farmer and consumer. Formal certification is viewed by its critics as a barrier to entry for these original producers, by burdening them with increased costs, paperwork, and bureaucracy. It also provides a legal framework which can be used to manipulate regulations, allowing lobbyists
to push for amendments, inclusions and exceptions favorable to
large-scale production. The feared result is "legally organic"
products, produced in ways similar to current conventional food. With
organic products sold through supermarket
chains, high volume distribution channels would then favor large
producers, and the small organic farmer would be effectively squeezed
The pressures of certification on the small farmer producing for the local food market are real and significant, particularly for mixed vegetable
production. For instance, certified organic seed is expensive, and the
selection is limited: currently, organic seed generally costs three to
five times that of uncertified seed, and the selection is limited to
two or three varieties of each crop, compared to dozens of varieties in
uncertified seed. Seed producers face the same constraints in
certification as do organic farmers, however, unlike farmers, their
market is primarily for uncertified seed, so supply could well lag far
behind demand for some time. Also, the detailed record keeping formats,
from planting to harvest, are usually designed for larger, single-crop
harvests, and become onerous for farmers harvesting a dozen or more
crops in small quantities on daily or weekly schedules. Balancing
strict, rule-based certification with practical concerns such as these
necessitates "case-by-case" exceptions for all but the biggest organic
farmers to survive within the system. Regardless of the intentions,
strict certification in practice greatly favors large-scale production.
|Manipulation of regulations - Manipulation of certification regulations as a way to mislead or
outright dupe the public is a very real concern. Some examples are
creating exceptions (allowing non-organic inputs to be used without
loss of certification status) and creative interpretation of standards
to meet the letter, but not the intention, or particular rules. For
example, a complaint filed with the USDA in February 2004 against a
food ingredient producer and its certifying agent charged that tap
water had been certified organic, and advertised for use in a variety
of water-based body care and food products, in order to label them
"organic" under US law. Steam-distilled plant extracts, consisting
mainly of tap water introduced during the distilling process, were
certified organic, and promoted as an organic base that could then be
used in a claim of organic content. The case was dismissed by the USDA,
as the products had been actually used only in personal care products,
over which the department at the time extended no labelling control.
The company subsequently adjusted its marketing by removing reference
to use of the extracts in food products. Several months later, the USDA
extended its organic labelling to personal care products; this
complaint has not been refiled.1 -
|Misrepresentation of the term organic - The word organic is central to the certification (and organic
food marketing) process, and this is also questioned by some. Where
organic laws exist, producers cannot use the term without
certification. Various alternative certification approaches, using
terms like "authentic" and "natural" instead of "organic", are
emerging. In the US, motivated by the cost and legal requirements of
certification (as of Oct. 2002), the farmer-to-farmer association, Certified Naturally Grown,
offers a "non-profit alternative eco-labelling program for small farms
that grow using USDA Organic methods but are not a part of the USDA
Certified Organic program."2 -
A related concern holds that certification is replacing consumer education, and this goes against the essential, holistic nature of organic farming. By reducing complex issues and regulations to a simple, convenient certified organic
label, consumers may more easily ignore the principles and practices
behind organics, leaving the definition of organic farming and organic
food open to manipulation.
| - ^ - "OCA Files Complaint with USDA's National Organic Program Against 'Organic Water' Scheme". Organic Consumers Association, 18-Feb-2004.
In August 2005, the USDA did extend NOP coverage to non-food products: "Organic
Consumers Association: USDA Yields in Battle Over Access of Personal
Care to National Organic Program; Organic Non-Food Products Qualify,
Says USDA". |
| Certified Natually Grown. |
|Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA National Organic Program: Final Rule (7 CFR Part 205; Federal Register, Vol. 65, No. 246, 21 December 2000
|OCPP/Pro-Cert Canada Organic Agriculture and Food Standard (OC/PRO IS 350/150
|The Australian Organic Industry: A Profile, 2004, 1 (pdf
|European Commission: Organic Farming
| USDA National Organic Program
|UK Soil Association