The approach

Check Organic's unique approach is to offer a real-time worldwide source of certification data including data from certification bodies independent of their location, of national, regional or international scope as well as from already existing national data bases.
Check Organic provides the technical settings for integrating certification data from different sources globally, be it through a web portal, excel upload or web service.
Organic Services offering Check Organic as a service to the organic sector is in contact with governments, e.g. the USDA and the EU Commission, private sector organisations, e.g. ACA, EOCC, OTA, IFOAM as well as individual certifiers, manufacturers and trade to make integrity a global reality. In case you have not heard from us yet, please get in contact.

Background

Safeguarding the integrity of the organic sector is a challenge. While concrete improvements to the certification regime are continuously being introduced, e.g. risk assessment inspections, fraud has not been prevented. In addition, although improved technology has resulted in the better detection of residues and genetically modified products, it has not prevented conventional products from being sold in the organic market.

Thus, reliable safeguards are hard to establish, and cannot be achieved by ever more detailed inspection and certification regulations alone. Precautionary measures on many levels, combined with the strong political support from the whole sector are essential to attaining integrity. Maintaining integrity takes constant attention and engagement, but costs much less than the disaster of a scandal. If an individual company, or the sector at large, loses its credibility it also loses the trust of the consumer.

Recent scandals in Europe (Germany, Romania, Italy, etc.) have had a profound impact on sales and the economics of affected supply chains. In Italy, for example, in 2013 a case of fraud in connection with organic certificates was detected.  According to reports, considerable amounts of conventionally-farmed maize, cereals and soybeans produced in Moldova and Ukraine, and imported via Malta were falsely labelled and sold as organic. Italian tax authorities confiscated 1,500 metric tons of cereals, and a number of suspects were convicted subsequently.

As organic food is trusted more than non-organic food, the consequences of a scandal to the sector are much greater. The critical eye of the public, private organizations and the media thus result in loss of consumer confidence, trust in brands and the perceived reliability of the system as such.

High risk of fraud

There are reasons why the organic sector was, and still is, prone to fraud. The more significant ones are:

  1. The current certification systems can be circumvented as explained above.
  2. Consumer demand permanently outstrips supply, so there is always a shortage of organic products.
  3. Despite improved inspection and certification systems, fraudulent labelling of conventional products as organic is simple, at least with commodities on the growers’ level.
  4. Fraud involves little risk of detection, and finally makes a lot of money.

Current trading practices rely on paper certificates or their digital version being sent to the buyer prior to the physical movement of a consignment or signing of a trading contract. There is no possibility for a buyer to verify whether or not a certificate is valid at that specific moment. Has certification been withdrawn recently? Is the product covered by the scope of the certificate? Has that quantity already been sold to a different buyer? The only means of checking is to contact the certification body in question for every batch to find out. This is time consuming and costly.

Global Situation

Globally, regulators as well as private organisations have only recently begun to introduce concrete requirements and services for improving transparency.

The European Union (EU) has passed a mandatory amendment (426/2011) to its organic regulation 834/2007 which requires EU Member States to publish basic data about organic certified products and certified producers/ traders in ‘a’ database (either governmental or private). This became effective on January 1st 2013. Although it is not yet clear in what format all 28 Member States will publish their national data, it is likely that each will do so in the near future.

In the USA, the USDA being responsible for the implementation of the National Organic Program (NOP) is publishing a list of certified operators once a year. With the date of publishing, data are already outdated. For years, the sector has considered this to be a severe weakness of the system. In response, the USDA has taken the initiative and published in March 2013 an outline of a future database with data provided real-time by accredited certifiers which will be funded through the Farm Bill recently signed by the President.

Already some years ago, India has built a compulsory database for certified organic export products. No product can be exported if not listed. The system establishes traceability from farm to harbour. Yet it is criticised, as fraudulent product, e.g. showing residues, is still coming to international markets.

China, as a reaction to losing the credibility in its certified organic products with buyers stopping to buy, has established a central registration system for export and domestic products alike by assigning a unique product number. The scrutiny of the system has yet to be proven.

Besides regulatory requirements, a number of private initiatives are addressing the need of further improved integrity for the organic sector. Among these are individual or sector initiatives, some of these interlinked:

  1. Certifiers offering real-time certification data through a portal based on their databases, e.g. Bioinspecta, ABG, CCOF, OTCO.
  2. bio-C, Easy-Cert, KdK collecting data from a number of certifiers and making certificates or even certification data available.

Private initiatives are considered to be more relevant compared to public initiatives as, not being limited to a single country, topic or product as they may in future be able to address international supply chain issues for any certification system such as organic, fair-trade, kosher, etc.

Organic Services offering Check Organic as a service to the organic sector is in contact with governments, e.g. the USDA and the EU Commission, private sector organisations, e.g. ACA, EOCC, OTA, IFOAM as well as individual certifiers, manufacturers and trade to make integrity a global reality. In case you have not heard from us yet, please get in contact.

Contact

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