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CERTIFICATION

Scandals in agriculture and the food industry are popping up with shorter and shorter intervals although food laws are getting stricter and stricter. Why is that so? Modern technology in food production and manufacturing still means that the application of pesticides and mineral fertilizers in agriculture or the use of chemical ingredients and additives in food processing is common practice resulting in residues. The standard analytical technique is developing rapidly so that more and more residues are detected. The awareness of the consumer is constantly increasing. The quality of food is more important than in the past, although the sales turnover of food discounters seem to contradict this statement. And there is another important development: control and certification mechanisms are developing rapidly. There are almost no areas in human life or technology where regulations or norms have not yet been developed and introduced.

In this regard organic food production set the precedents for the conventional industry. Whereas in the 1980s it was private (farmer) organizations who developed the standards for production, inspection and certification; at the beginning of the 1990s the first governments took over this ask. At least they took on the task of defining the rules, as it is their right of sovereignty, but they did not necessarily become involved in the implementation of these rules at all levels. Today Codex Alimentarius, with its organic chapter, defines the common international ground for governments. Regulations like the EU or US law were passed and implemented at governmental or supra-governmental level. State governments added specific requirements. Today about 60 countries have already implemented their system or are on their way to doing so. The major consuming and importing markets like Europe and the USA are leading, but countries like India, China and Brazil are following their path. Inspection and certification is accredited or at least supervised by government authorities as defined in the regulations, even though the systems being implemented might be quite different. Control and supervision in at all levels should guarantee that all inspectors and certifiers are evaluated and accredited (accreditation means: "the inspection of certifiers"). But it is not enough to define the rules. It is still necessary to achieve a minimum of (worldwide) equivalency guaranteed throughout the system. Therefore a whole set of norms, the ISO Norms, are introduced to the organic sector which have to be followed and implemented.

The concern of the consumer should therefore be met. Food scandals should disappear in the long run as production and processing cycles are regulated and "the control of the controllers" is well organized. But we all still wait for that to happen. Why is that so? First because of the ongoing application of pesticides, food additives, etc. in the conventional system which is harmful to the organic system by polluting its environment. Second because inspection, certification and accreditation systems are plausibility systems, they do random checking. Even if that is done on a regular/irregular base and or announced/unannounced it is impossible to afford an "around the clock" supervisory system. As a result of the above, certification (including inspection and accreditation) should be reasonably designed to support the credibility of the organic system rather than to spoil it by overburdening it with more and more nitty-gritty bureaucratic details. The aim of a completely "safe" system will not be achievable as long as the polluters are protected and supported by the same regulatory system which likes to put an end to food insecurity and food scandals.

This is what the organic movement tried to do and is still trying to achieve and implement when designing the private system yet acknowledging the reality of its practical restrictions.

Codex Alimentarius

Consumer demand for organically produced food products is on the rise worldwide, providing new market opportunities for farmers and marketing actors in developing and developed countries. The need for clear and harmonized rules has not only been taken up by private bodies, IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) and state authorities (e.g. EU regulation 2092/91 within the European Union), but also by the UN-Organizations FAO and WHO. FAO and WHO have officially declared that international guidelines on organically produced food products are seen as important for consumer protection and information, and because they facilitate trade (FAO, 1999).

They are also useful to governments wishing to develop regulations in this area, in particular in developing countries and countries in Eastern Europe. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, a joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, the body that sets international food standards, started to develop Guidelines for the production, processing, labeling and marketing of organically produced food in 1991. Within one of the Codex Alimentarius committees, the one concerned with food labeling (CCFL), a special working group with the active participation of observer organizations such as IFOAM and the EU, has worked intensively on developing such guidelines, following the 8 step Codex procedure. In June 1999, first plant production and then, in July 2001, animal production, was approved by the Codex Commission. The requirements in these Codex Guidelines are generally in line with IFOAM Basic Standards and the EU regulation for organic food (2092/91 and amendments, 1804/99). There are some differences in regard to the details and the areas which are covered by the different standards. Codex Alimentarius guidelines on organic food take into account the current regulations in several countries, in particular EU regulation 2092/91, as well as private standards applied by producer organisations, especially those based on IFOAM Basic Standards. These guidelines clearly define the nature of organic food production and prevent claims that could mislead consumers about the quality of the product or the way it was produced. According to the proposed Codex definition, "organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity."

In other words, organic agriculture is not only based on minimizing the use of external inputs and avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, but follows a system and process oriented approach. The use of genetic modified/engineered organisms, and products thereof, is clearly excluded. In the animal section, special emphasis is given to animal welfare issues such as livestock housing and feeding systems in order to maintain the high credibility of organic food among consumers. In the section on processing of organic food, especially animal products, there is an ongoing intensive debate in the Codex Alimentarius Organic Working group on how far the use of food additives and processing aids should be limited, taking into account consumer expectations for safe/minimal processing and minimum use of inputs on one hand, and traditional eating habits in different regions and the possibility to choose between a certain range of products on the other.

The new text of the Codex Guidelines takes into account the work of pioneer firms which developed innovative technologies and which comply with the basic principles of organic food production, e.g. by avoiding synthetic colorants, flavors and nitrates/nitrites. A consensus was achieved by agreeing, in 2001, on a limited and provisional list of food additives and processing aids. This is subject to further revisions based on experiences and developments at national level.

In the view of IFOAM, which was actively involved in the elaboration of these guidelines, this codex document is an important step in the harmonization of international rules in order to build up consumer trust. They will be important for equivalence judgments under the rules of WTO (World Trade Organisation). To develop the market for organically produced food, further development of these Codex Guidelines is important to provide guidance to governments in developing national regulations for organic food. These Codex Guidelines for organically produced food will be regularly reviewed - at least every four years - based on given Codex procedures. Regarding the list of inputs, there is a possibility of an accelerated procedure which facilitates a quicker update of amendments. Regarding future work, a clear need was identified at the meetings in 2001 and 2002, to review the criteria of inputs.

It was also agreed to review the lists of substances for agricultural production and processing, taking into account technological advances in the organic food industry, the development of organic farming/food research and the growing awareness of different consumer groups of such food. At the meeting in May 2002 of the Codex Food Labeling Committee (CCFL), the existing criteria for inputs were reviewed and the procedure developed in such a way that decisions on future inputs will be supported by technical submissions evaluated with these criteria. A number of countries, plus the EU and IFOAM, have submitted proposals for amendments, in particular concerning food processing. These will be evaluated by experts, and the old and new criteria will be discussed at the next meeting of the CCFL Working group for Organic Food.

 

QUALITY CONSCIOUSNESS

The Indian Standards are modelled on the IFOAM Basic Standards and the seal "India Organic" has been established. In October 2001, the export of organic products was brought under government regulation, while imports and the domestic market were. European certification bodies are established as legal entities in the country and are accredited under the NPOP.

India's first local organic certification body, Indocert, was founded in March 2002. Indocert's aim is to offer reliable and affordable organic inspection and certification services to farmers, processors, input suppliers and traders. It provides certification for the domestic and export market. Indocert has a strong technical collaboration with FiBL (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture) in Switzerland and Bio-Inspecta (Swiss inspection body) which provides inspector training and supervises the inspection activities. In order to improve extension work at the field level, Indocert is initiating the set up of an Indian Organic Advisors Association. Aimed to provide technical advice for farmers, the association will function as a platform for advice, information dissemination and training in the field of organic agriculture.

 
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