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Organic certification

Organic certification is an accreditation process for food producers. 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 include:

Certified organic producers are also subject to the same agricultural, food safety and other government regulations that apply to non-certified producers.

Table of contents
1 Purpose of Certification
2 Certification Around the World
3 Certification Issues

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 guarantee, similar to "low fat", "100% whole wheat", or "no artificial preservatives".

Certification Around the World

In some countries, organic standards are a matter of law. The US and EU have comprehensive organic legislation, and the term "organic" may be used only by certified producers. In countries without organic legislation, government guidelines may or may not exist, and certification is handled by non-profit organizations and private companies. Various negotiations are underway, and some agreements are already in place, to harmonize certification between countries, facilitating international trade.

In the US, a national standard, 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). 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 corporation, claims to be the leading certifier in the US.

In Canada, there is a national organic standard, but it is a guideline only, not law. Certification is provided by private sector organisations. In Quebec, provincial legislation provides government oversight of organic certification within the province, through the Conseil D'Accréditation Du Québec (Quebec Accreditation Board).

EU countries have had a comprehensive organic legislation since the early 1990s.

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.

In Sweden, organic certification is handled by the private corporation KRAV.

Certification Issues

Organic certification is not without its critics. Some of the staunchest opponents of chemical-based farming and agribusiness practices, also oppose formal certification. To understand this argument, it must be realized that the organic food industry was built mainly by small, independent farmers. As the organic market expands, formal certification is seen as a barrier to entry for small producers, and as a way for agribusiness interests to manipulate the regulations and dominate the market. In this scenario, small operators are burdened by increased paperwork, bureaucracy and added expense, while agribusiness lobbies for amendments and exceptions, to end up producing "legally organic" product in much the same way it operates today. High volume distribution channels would then favor large producers, and the small organic farmer would be effectively squeezed out. A case in point, the farmer-to-farmer association, Certified Naturally Grown, 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."[1]

It is interesting to note that the NOP is essentially a marketing program, aimed at regulating and facilitating the sale of a certain product - organic foods - to consumers. It does not in any way modify existing agricultural policies or legislation.