Organic Farming Certification
A frequent question we get at Albert’s (and from what I understand a pretty frequent question you receive on the retail level as well) is “what exactly is involved for growers in receiving their organic certification”? The process itself is fairly elaborate involving a near overload of paperwork, and a pretty substantial fee. The website ecotippingpoints has a wonderful section that summarizes the organic certification process for U.S. growers. Thanks to ecotippingpoints for providing this very valuable information in such a clear and concise format. Enjoy the read:
A Summary of the Certification Process in the USA: There are several stages to certification:
- Selecting a Certifier: The producer or handler gets an application packet from a certifier. While there are various types of certifiers (listed on the NOP website), some of which are private (non-profit or for-profit) or governmental, all are accredited by the USDA. However, some are better recognized than others, and some offer certification to further standards, such as IFOAM, the EU, Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS), Conseil des appellation agroalimentaires du Quebec (CAAQ), Biodynamic, GAP, Kosher, or Fair Trade. Others provide other services, such as newsletters or educational opportunities. It is up to the farmer or handler to decide which certifier best meets his or her needs.
- The Application: The producer or handler fills out the application and submits an Organic System Plan (OSP), along with other requested documentation, licensing agreements and fees. The OSP is essentially a detailed written plan which concerns all aspects of the applicant’s operation. For example, crop producers would be required to describe land-use history, field maps, crop rotation plans, plans for soil improvement and pest control, seed sources, material inputs, measures to maintain organic integrity (ie borders and buffers between applicant’s crops and neighbours, post-harvest handling and storage, etc.) as well as other relevant requested information.
- Application and OSP Review by the Certifier: The Certifier reviews the OSP and application, and if it is evaluated to be capable of meeting the requirements for certification, a qualified organic inspector will do an on-site inspection.
- Inspection: Onsite inspections are performed before certification and then on an annual basis afterward. Inspections must be performed when a person knowledgeable about the operation is on-site, and during a time when normal operations are underway. The inspector does the onsite inspection and reviews record-keeping to confirm that operations are consistent with the operator’s OSP. Records to be checked would include input materials, production, harvest and sales records, as well as appropriate packaging and labeling. The inspector might take soil, tissue (from livestock) or product samples if needed. At the end of the inspection, the inspector will provide a report to the Certifier (who then makes the certification decision—it is not the inspector’s role to do so).
- Review of Inspection Report by Certifier: After reviewing the report, the Certifier will decide whether the operation is eligible for organic certification. Operations not in compliance will organic standards may be denied or revoked certification, or require correction before certification is granted or renewed. The operator will then be given a time frame to correct the issue and provide documentation to the Certifier showing that the problem has been addressed.
- Certification: A certificate is issued to successful applicants and when this is received, the operation may begin selling their products under the organic label which identifies the Certifier beneath the name of the producer or handler.
Organic growers are a huge part of the organic family, and without their dedication and commitment we would have no organic food to sell. As retailers and wholesalers, we certainly have our own hoops to jump through, but it's helpful to get a glimpse of how all facets of the organic food chain function; and to understand what steps are necessary in order for the results of organic farming to become transformed into a sellable product that consumers can buy at the retail level.