Organic Certifiers no longer accredited to the USDA’s National Organic Program
March 3rd, 2011
The United States Department of Agriculture has announced that two former organic certifiers, Certified Organic, Inc. (COI) and Guaranteed Organic Certification Agency (GOCA), are no longer accredited to the National Organic Program (NOP).
As a result, the companies do not have authority to certify operations as meeting the USDA organic standards. “Having a strong accreditation program is critical, since the NOP relies on accredited certifying agents to ensure that operations comply with the regulations,” said Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the NOP.
Under the authority of the federal organic regulations (7 CFR Part 205), the NOP can propose to revoke or suspend certification authority of an accredited agent if it fails to properly adhere to the governing law and regulations. The administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) denied an appeal by COI, based out of Keosauqua, Iowa, to reconsider a proposed revocation stating COI’s “systemic inability to comply with the full terms and conditions” of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the organic regulations.
An audit by AMS, which is required every five years to renew accreditation, found that COI failed to address multiple noncompliance items, some of them longstanding. These included failure to communicate with hired inspectors about proper procedures or ensure they were adequately trained, to adhere to internal procedures according to their operational manual, to keep confidentiality agreements on file for all employees with knowledge about certification applicants or operations, to indicate on certificates the effective dates for organic certification, to ensure adequate training for employees about the regulations, to provide clients with cost estimates including inspection fees, to clearly identify the company’s responsibility to pay for any required pre- or postharvest testing, and to verify organic system plans against the actual practices of their certified operations.
Similarly, the AMS administrator denied an appeal by GOCA, based out of Temecula, Calif., following a reaccreditation audit that revealed noncompliance items that remained unresolved through proposed corrective actions. The administrator stated that their persistent noncompliance indicated an inability to fully comply with the requirements for NOP accreditation.
The decision pointed to GOCA’s lack of thorough review of input materials used by their certified operations; communication issues with certification applicants; problems with timing of annual audits; failure to adequately train employees; problems with performance evaluations; incomplete review of certification applications, including failure to require clients to use defined boundaries and border zones as required by the organic standards; and problems with documentation.
As both companies have surrendered their accreditation following the administrator’s decision, they are no longer authorized to certify operations as organic. Operations formerly certified under COI or GOCA are being certified by other accredited certifying agents or have surrendered their certifications.
Keywords: certification, organic certification, National Organic Program, accreditation