|Group certification: who should be eligible?|
Last update: July 16th, 2008.
Since August 2007, IFOAM has been one of the main actors in the discussions and advocacy efforts regarding the acceptance of group certification by the US National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). IFOAM developed and submitted official comments to the recommendation of the Certification, Accreditation and Compliance Committee (CACC) of the NOSB and made public comments in the NOSB meetings in November 2007 and May 2008.
CACC terminology opened the debate
In the US the Certification, Accreditation and Compliance Committee (CACC) was mandated to revise the 2002 NOSB recommendation on grower group certification. Throughout its discussions the CACC has referred to the topic as ‘Certifying Operations with Multiple Production Units, Sites and Facilities under the National Organic Program’. This terminology was used in an attempt to demonstrate that the group certification methodology was consistent and compliant with the current National Organic Program (NOP) regulation. In addition to the adoption of this language, several actors, including IFOAM, defended the argument that multi-site or group certification was a reliable certification methodology and not a weakened requirement for smallholders. This has led to a widening of the discussion on group certification acceptance. Although there is broad agreement that the priority is to secure acceptance of group certification for developing country smallholders, several organisations and companies engaged in the discussion have wished to extend the scope of applicability of group certification. The CACC language allows the inclusion of any ‘group’ or ‘chain’ of operations operating under a common organic system plan and internal control system, whether these operations are farms, processing plants, retailers’ stores or restaurants.
IFOAM’s response based on IFOAM Accreditation Criteria
IFOAM’s November 2007 comments to the NOSB did not exclude any kind of operation from the application of the multi-site certification methodology. In its May 2008 Appendix document, the CACC called for comments on several pending issues, among which were the following two questions:
- Should group certification apply to retailers, handlers, processors and restaurants if they meet the stringent criteria?”
- Should group certification be limited to only small farmers (smallholders)? What defines small?
IFOAM’s response to these questions was based on the current IFOAM Accreditation Criteria (IAC), and reads “The group certification system within IFOAM is also evolving from the need to devise a system of control and certification of small farmer groups towards a system of combined internal and external control for operations organized collectively. IFOAM does not exclude large farming units, processing units and traders from participation in a multi-site operation but requires that they be individual production units and subject to annual inspections by the accredited certifying agent. Further work on specific certification criteria for multi-site operations comprised of only large farming units, processing units or traders is needed.”
This response reflects the tension between the need to think ahead and IFOAM’s duty to defend the current IAC.
However, several IFOAM members have expressed concern that thinking on group certification has evolved within IFOAM in the last few years to include a broader meaning. This evolution, which intensified with the US discussions, has resulted in a test implementation of group certification in Europe through an IFOAM project. Worries relate to the concern that smallholders could lose from an extension of the scope of group certification to other actors, and that advocating for continued acceptance might become more difficult if the concept was broadened to include large companies. In February 2008, two American IFOAM member organisations submitted a motion to the IFOAM General Assembly (GA), stating: ’IFOAM and the World Board will protect and promote Grower Group organic certification exclusively for small-scale family farms that market jointly.’ The IFOAM World Board (WB) published a comment to this motion in the April 2008 issue of ‘IFOAM in Action’. The response read: ’IFOAM has continuously worked for and promoted grower group certification. Our work is based on the IFOAM Accreditation Criteria 2005 which is not limited to small-scale family farms. IFOAM’s mission is leading, uniting and assisting the organic movement in its full diversity and not any single group.’
Debate at the Organic World Congress and IFOAM General Assembly
It was anticipated that the discussion at the General Assembly on this motion and on the IFOAM World Board’s comment to it would be complex.As time was short for such a discussion IFOAM decided to use the opportunity of the Organic World Congress (OWC) to bring the discussion to its members and the public. Consequently, a 3-hour session containing a roundtable discussion entitled \Group certification: who should be eligible?’ was organised. IFOAM prepared a discussion paper to set the frame of the discussion and provided the panelists with an overview of different positions and arguments expressed informally or formally during the previous months. Katherine DiMatteo (Wolf, DiMatteo and Associates, IFOAM WB member, USA), Tracy Miedema (Stahlbush Island Farms, NOSB board member, USA), William J. Friedman (Attorney at law, USA), Roberto Ugás (Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Peru, IOAS Accreditation Committee member), Gunnar Rundgren (Grolink, Sweden), Marty Mesh (Florida Organic Growers, USA, motion submitter) and Bo van Elzakker (Agro Eco, Netherlands) were panelists of the roundtable discussion. The discussion was very lively, with contrasting opinions and arguments among the panelists and also among the audience. The discussion paper and the minutes of the panel discussion will soon be made available on the Group Certification section of the IFOAM website.
A Motion Bazaar was held prior to the General Assembly motions debates, offering IFOAM members the opportunity to discuss issues with the motion makers and to propose friendly amendments. During the Motion Bazaar, the aforementioned motion was explained and debated with several IFOAM members, and included perspectives from the OWC session discussions. By the end of the afternoon, the motion had been substantially amended and combined with another similar motion on group certification. The amended motion was ‘IFOAM, and the World Board, will support, educate and advocate regarding Grower Group certification in order to obtain recognized and legal status world wide for small holders, family scale farmers and others small scale processors/ handlers. If or when other groups are considered for an ICS system, additional criteria will have to be proposed, discussed and agreed upon by the membership.’ The amended motion was then presented to the Assembly, supported by all the speakers to the motion and unanimously approved (with a few abstentions).
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