Organically Certified and what it means to Us
- avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives), irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge.
- avoidance of genetically modified seed;
- use of farmland that has been free from prohibited chemical inputs for a number of years (often, three or more);
- for livestock, adhering to specific requirements for feed, housing, and breeding;
- 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.
- Organic certification, as well as fair trade certification, has the potential to directly and indirectly contribute to the achievement of some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are the eight international development goals that were established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, with all United Nations member states committed to help achieve the MDGs by 2015. With the growth of ethical consumerism in developed countries, imports of eco-friendly and socially certified produce from the poor in developing countries have increased, which could contribute towards the achievement of the MDGs. A study by Setboonsarng (2008) reveals that organic certification substantially contributes to MDG1 (poverty and hunger) and MDG7 (environmental sustainability) by way of premium prices and better market access, among others. This study concludes that for this market-based development scheme to broaden its poverty impacts, public sector support in harmonizing standards, building up the capacity of certifiers, developing infrastructure development, and innovating alternative certification systems will be required.
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 what is and is not allowed for every aspect of farming, including storage, transport and sale.
- Compliance — farm facilities and production methods must comply with the standards, which may involve modifying facilities, sourcing and changing suppliers, etc.
- Documentation — extensive paperwork is required, detailing farm history and current set-up, and usually including results of soil and water tests.
- Planning — a written annual production plan must be submitted, detailing everything from seed to sale: seed sources, field and crop locations, fertilization and pest control activities, harvest methods, storage locations, etc.
- Inspection — annual on-farm inspections are required, with a physical tour, examination of records, and an oral interview.
- Fee — an annual inspection/certification fee (currently starting at $400–$2,000/year, in the US and Canada, depending on the agency and the size of the operation). There are financial assistance programs for qualifying certified operations.
- Record-keeping — written, day-to-day farming and marketing records, covering all activities, must be available for inspection at any time.
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 follows a similar process. The focus is on the quality of 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 as certified organic.
You can find out more about Organically Certified and there practice