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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 most synthetic chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge; 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.
In some countries, certification is seen by the government, and commercial use of the term organic is legally restricted. Certified organic producers are also subject to the same agricultural, food safety and other government regulations that apply to non-certified producers.
The organic inspection doesn't need to be scary, stressful, or onerous. The inspection process can be useful to producers of crops or livestock, and processors or handlers of agricultural products. The organic inspection is a unique opportunity because it involves the most face-to-face contact between the producer or handler and an inspector who works for the certifier.
Organic certifiers conduct annual inspections of all their clients (certified parties) to verify, through on-site review of actual activities and the corresponding records that the clients are in compliance with the relevant organic standards. Every USDA-accredited certification agency must make annual inspections. Most inspections are scheduled with the client in advance; however, some inspections are unannounced. This publication will help you incorporate management practices that will keep you prepared for an inspection at any moment. Benefits of the inspection process for organic certification include the following:
Learning about public educational opportunities or sources of information and technical assistance available through your certifier, Cooperative Extension, local farm organizations, or industry networks. (Please note that this is not part of the inspection, but an incidental benefit. The role of the inspector is discussed below.)
The steps that help you prepare for your inspection for organic certification will also help you maintain healthy farming systems and viable business practices.
Organic certification addresses a growing worldwide demand for organic food. It is intended to assure quality and prevent fraud, and to promote commerce. While such certification was not necessary in the early days of the organic movement, when small farmers would sell their produce directly at farmers' markets, as organics have grown in popularity, more and more consumers are purchasing organic food through traditional channels, such as supermarkets. As such, consumers must rely on third-party regulatory certification.
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".
Certification is essentially 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 consumers—a certifier may promote the high consumer recognition value of its logo as a marketing advantage to producers. Most UK certification bodies operate organic standards that meet the UK government's minimum requirements. Some certification bodies, such as the Soil Association, certify to higher standards.
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 about what is and is not allowed for every aspect of farming, including storage, transport and sale.
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, two to three years. This is known as being in transition. Transitional crops are not considered fully organic.
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.
In some countries, organic standards are formulated and seen 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. Being able to put the word "organic" on a food product is a valuable marketing advantage in today's consumer market, but does not guarantee the product is legitimately organic. Certification is intended to protect consumers from misuse of the term, and make buying organics easy. However, the organic labeling made possible by certification itself usually requires explanation. In countries without organic laws, government guidelines may or may not exist, while certification is handled by non-profit organizations and private companies.
Internationally, equivalency negotiations are underway, and some agreements are already in place, to harmonize certification between countries, facilitating international trade. There are also international certification bodies, including members of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), and Ecocert. In places 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.
In the US, federal organic legislation defines three levels of organics. Products made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods can be labeled "100% organic". Products with at least 95% organic ingredients can use the word "organic". Both of these categories may also display the USDA organic seal. A third category, containing a minimum of 70% organic ingredients, can be labeled "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 cannot 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.
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 (except 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).
One of the first organizations to carry out organic certification in North America was the California Certified Organic Farmers, founded in 1973.
In Canada, certification was implemented at the federal level on June 30, 2009. Mandatory certification is required for agricultural products represented as organic in import, export and inter-provincial trade, or that bear the federal organic logo. In Quebec, provincial legislation provides government oversight of organic certification within the province, through the Quebec Accreditation Board (Conseil D'Accréditation Du Québec).
EU countries acquired comprehensive organic legislation with the implementation of the EU-Eco-regulation 1992. Supervision of certification bodies is handled at the national level.
In March 2002 the European Commission issued a European wide label for organic food, however, for most of the countries it was not able to replace existing national product labels. It was relaunched in 2009 with a design competition for a new logo to be used throughout the EU from July 2010. The final logo was supposedly chosen by a public vote online, which was open until the 31st of January 2010  .
In the United Kingdom, organic certification is handled by a number of organizations, regulated by The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), of which the largest are the Soil Association and Organic Farmers and Growers.
In Sweden, organic certification is handled by the organization with members such as farmers, processors, trade and also consumer, environmental and animal welfare interests.
In Ireland, organic certification is available at the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association. In Greece, organic certification is available at eight (8) organizations approved by EU. The major of them are BIOHELLAS and the DIO (Greek: Οργανισμός Ελέγχου και Πιστοποίησης Βιολογικών Προϊόντων - ΔΗΩ)
In France, organic certification was introduced in 1985. It has established a green-white logo of "AB - agriculture biologique". The certification for the AB label fulfills the EU regulations for organic food. The certification process is overseen by a public institute ("Agence française pour le développement et la promotion de l'agriculture biologique" usually shortended to "Agence bio") established in November 2001. The actual certification authorities include a number of different institutes like Aclave, Agrocert, Ecocert SA, Qualité France SA, Ulase, SGS ICS.
In Belgium, a similar process as in France is being used where certification of the "Biogarantie" label is overseen by the public "association sans but lucratif" (ASBL) administration. This administration exists since 27 June, 1921 and it was reformed on 2 May, 2002 to take over the new responsibilities of the label certification.
In Germany, the national label was introduced in September 2001 following the footsteps of the political campaign of "Agrarwende" (agricultural major shift) led by minister Renate Künast of the Greens party. This campaign was started after the mad-cow disease epidemic in 2000. The effects on farming are still challenged by other political parties. The national "Bio"-label in its hexagon green-black-white shape has gained wide popularity - in 2007 there were 2431 companies having certified 41708 products. The popularity of the label is extending to neighbouring countries like Austria, Switzerland and France.
In the German-speaking countries, there have been older non-government organizations that had issued labels for organic food, long before the advent of the EU organic food regulations. Their labels are still used widely as they significantly exceed the requirements of the EU regulations. An organic food label like "demeter" from Demeter International has been in use since 1928 and this label is still regarded as providing the highest standards for organic food in the world. Other active NGOs include Biokreis, Bioland, Biopark, Ecoland, Ecovin, Gäa e.V. and Naturland.
The farmland converted to produce certified organic food has seen a signification evolution in the EU15 rising from 1.8% in 1998 to 4.1% in 2005. For the current EU25, however, the statistics do report an overall percentage of just 1.5% as of 2005. Other than the percentage of farmland the statistics show a much larger percentage of organic food in terms of turnover reaching 10% in France and 14% in Germany. Vegetables, fruits, milk and eggs have reached a percentage of 21% to be certified organic food in France. Non-EU countries have widely adopted the European certification regulations for organic food, to increase export chances to EU countries.
In Japan, the Japanese Agricultural Standard (JAS) was fully implemented as law in April, 2001. This was revised in November 2005 and all JAS certifiers were required to be re-accredited by the Ministry of Agriculture.
In Australia, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) is the controlling body for organic certification because there are no domestic standards for organic produce within Australia. Currently the government only becomes involved with organic certification at export, meaning AQIS is the default certification agency. Although there is no system for monitoring the labelling of organic produce sold within Australia, this primarily affects the retail public. Commercial buyers for whom this is an issue have simply taken the export system as a de facto standard and are willing to pay premium prices for produce from growers certified under the National schemes. As of 2006, there are seven AQIS-approved certifying organizations authorized to issue Organic Produce Certificates, 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.
In India, APEDA regulates the certification of organic products as per National Standards for Organic Production. "The NPOP standards for production and accreditation system have been recognized by European Commission and Switzerland as equivalent to their country standards. Similarly, USDA has recognized NPOP conformity assessment procedures of accreditation as equivalent to that of US. With these recognitions, Indian organic products duly certified by the accredited certification bodies of India are accepted by the importing countries."
In China, the China Green Food Development Center awards two Standards: A and AA; while the former standard does permit some use of synthetic agricultural chemicals, the latter is more stringent.
With a team of highly qualified consultants and trainers having vast industrial experience, QMS Inc. assists organizations across the world to implement and achieve ORGANIC certification. Our consultation approach is highly professional, time bound and effective resulting in the ease of implementation and adds value to the business processes of the client’s organization.
We offer ORGANIC training, implementation, consultation, gap analysis, documentation, internal audits, pre-assessment audits, certification audit through best of the certification bodies and post certification enhancement / maintenance services to enable your organization get the best out of CE management system. Our services are globally accepted, authoritative and benchmarked in the field of ORGANIC: Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get your organization ORGANIC certified.