Committed to the organic sector for the past 9 years, Sébastien Houle is working to build a more sustainable world as the General Manager of Ecocert Canada. Ecocert is recognized with 30 years of auditing and certification experience in more than 150 different standards, including organic certification in over 130 countries. Ecocert is the world specialist in the certification of sustainable practices with over 70,000 operators. Ecocert provides solutions to promote good environmental and social practices in all sectors, all over the world.
The Canadian Organic Regulation has set out who would be responsible to follow-up on the Regulation and make sure the integrity of the products is maintained throughout the chain of custody. Certification Bodies (CBs) play a key role in this system. Their mandate is to evaluate the compliance of the practices of the farms and companies who market organic products. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has written a quite elaborate set of procedures and policies to guide the CBs on how CFIA expects evaluation work to be performed.
When someone registers for organic certification, CBs do a documentary evaluation to make sure the applicant meets the requirements, on paper, linked to its activity. This review allows CBs to detect possible discrepancy before going further into the certification process.
When the documentary review shows no evidence of issues, the onsite evaluation can be planned. The evaluator, often called the inspector, will prepare the visit by studying the information provided by the applicant and conducts some research related to the activity to be evaluated. Let’s say the applicant is a cash crop farm located in southern Saskatchewan, planting wheat, barley and rye. The evaluator will verify ahead of time the average general yields, both organic and non-organic, for those crops in that region, the weather conditions that prevail, the market demand and prices…
During the onsite visit, the evaluator will compare the information provided with the actual situation on the farm. Are the fields the same size and location as the maps indicate, “what does the crop look like?”, “what is a good expectation on yields?”, “how was cultivation managed?” are a few of the questions the evaluator will come to the inspection already equipped with.
Detection of potential fraud is not an easy task. The evaluator must be vigilant to take advantage of any clue that arises during the visit. Unannounced inspection and sampling are additional tools when suspecting a problem.
Since there have been persistent rumors related to sales of non-organic grains on the organic market, Ecocert Canada decided in 2017 to put in place a pre-shipment quantity verification system for grain commodities. This means that every sale of organic grain by one of its clients at farm level is verified by Ecocert who will compare the data with the declared annual yields and make sure sales do not exceed the farm’s production capacity. This system has been adopted by a great number of buyers who make it mandatory to confirm purchases. Other CBs have followed suit and it has become an additional tool in our task of ensuring customers get what they paid for and the product is worth the additional premium.
Faced with investigated fraud on their market, the European Union (EU) was quick to implement Import Certificates for organic. The document can be filled in online, but CBs have the responsibility to make sure the data is compliant before confirming the issuance of the original copy. Without the original copy, the EU importer is not allowed to sell the product as organic in the EU. Verification takes place at the border. Japan has a similar system. Our neighbour to the south, the United States, is working on implementing such a mandatory system as well to prevent fraud.