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Organic production in the European Union (II): current certification model

This article is a follow-up from the article “Organic production in the European Union (Part I): current outlook and regulatory developments”.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to disclose verified information with which anyone can form their own opinion on the subject discussed below. If you would like to provide relevant information to enrich or improve this article, please contact us.

Is the ecological standard the same for everyone?

If the European Union sets the rules of the game common for everyone, why do opinions arise that the rules are different in each country or even in each region?

The EU proposes a common legislative framework, but delegates the implementation to each country. This does not mean that each member state has freedom of interpretation of the standard, but that within the margin set by the EU, each country organizes the certification of organic production based on the specific characteristics and climatology of each country. Each member state delegates the powers of inspection and certification to its Control Authority and this is responsible for organizing the bodies that monitor proper implementation. In general, certification has been delegated to accredited private companies. 

In Spain, for example, the state delegates the management of certification to each autonomy. Thus, in some autonomous regions such as Madrid, Andalusia or Castilla la Mancha, certification is carried out by private companies and in other cases such as the Valencia Region, Asturias, the Basque Country or Catalonia, the certifier is a public body. Some of the authorised private companies are CAECV or CCPAE. 

In France there are also different certifiers such as Ecocert, Certipaq Bio, Bureau Veritas or Certisud. 

In Germany the companies Grünstempel® – Ökoprüfstelle e.V., KIWA, Ecocert, ARS PROBATA GmbH, among others, are in charge. 

The European Union has set up this website to identify the authorised inspection bodies in each country.

Then what is the difference between certification from one country or another?

Control bodies. They are the ones who, that ultimately and with little margin of variation allowed by the regulations, define a producer’s risk assessment. All producers are subject to an on-site inspection at least once a year, preferably without warning. Apart from the annual inspection, the inspection bodies define how many additional assessments they will make. This is based on a general assessment of the risk of non-compliance with organic production rules, taking into account the results of previous inspections, the quantity of products concerned and the risk of product substitution.

The control bodies also do not act in their own free will but have to submit their certification schemes to the control authority and in turn undergo audits to ensure that they are doing their job well. 

To further reduce this variable, the new rules “confer on the Commission implementing powers as regards the minimum percentage of all official controls to be carried out without prior warning and the minimum percentage of additional controls, as well as the minimum number of samples to be taken”. This means that the Commission will harmonise this paragraph from 2021. 

Illustration of an organic certificate

Can one country’s certification be stricter than that of another? 

No. The certification is the same for all member states. We explain it with an example:

An organic certified product, for example in Finland, can be marketed as organic in any other member state. If, for example, Finland has a strawberry production standard that limits certain aspects more than the organic standard itself, strawberries produced in Finland will have to comply with the Finnish standard and the EU organic standard in order to be marketed in Finland. But strawberries produced, for example in Austria, will only have to comply with EU organic production rules in order to be sold in Finland as such, as the supposedly more restrictive local rules would in this case only fictitiously affect strawberries produced in Finland. 

In conclusion, the European Union has made a firm commitment to defending and promoting organic production and is working to maintain consumer confidence in the system. The points where problems or risks have been detected with the first regulation of 2007 are being rectified in the regulation that will come into effect in 2021.

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