National Organic Standards Board suggests unannounced inspections

03/23/2012 12:22:00 PM
Coral Beach

(UPDATED COVERAGE, March 29) Federal officials are considering how to implement unannounced inspections of certified organic operations and beef up criteria for inspectors, at the recommendation of the National Organic Standards Board.

In a March 21 memo to the NOSB, the deputy administrator of the National Organic Program, Miles McEvoy, responded to those and other recommendations the standards board made at its 2011 fourth-quarter meeting.

One member of the standards board sees the value of the recommendations from two sides of the issue. Standards board member John Foster is also senior manager for quality, food safety and organic integrity at Earthbound Farm, San Juan Batista, Calif. Before joining the Earthbound staff, Foster was a grower, researcher and organic inspector.

Foster said unannounced inspections are one method to improve the whole organic industry.

The Organic Trade Association is also on record as being in favor of the recommendations.

The standards board recommended mandatory unannounced inspections for at least 5% of certified operations each year. The scope could be limited, with the collection of samples depending on individual situations. According to the NOSB, an unannounced “full inspection” could serve as the annual on-site inspection for a certified operation.

“The vote of the NOSB demonstrates a strong will to ensure that all producers of organic food are in compliance every day,” Foster said. “In my many years as an organic inspector, I came to see that this kind of protocol improved not just compliance with the standards, but also provided real business value regardless of scale.”

In the memo, McEvoy said the NOP will “explore ways to implement inspection requirements to enhance organic integrity.”

As a former grower, Foster voiced support for tougher requirements for organic inspectors.

“I think the organic community and industry will be well served if we set standards for inspectors to calibrate expectations and accountability throughout the industry,” Foster said. “We owe it to certified producers and handlers, and to consumers, to ensure that the boots on the ground have sufficient experience, expertise and training.”

Recommendations for inspector qualifications include a baseline expertise level, continuing education requirements and accreditation criteria for certifying agents. McEvoy said in the memo the NOP has commissioned “additional work in this area” with the International Organic Inspectors Association.

The NOSB also recommended regulations for organizations that test and certify pesticides, fertilizers and other products used in organic production. The owner of a California company recently pleaded to falsifying paperwork on ingredients of supposedly organic fertilizer; tests proved he was using unapproved synthetic materials.

Currently NOP accredits third-party organic certifiers for crops, livestock, handling and wild harvest, but not for the review of fertilizers and other materials.

Foster said organizations that review those materials bear a unique burden and there must be controls in place to ensure they are qualified.

The Organic Trade Association has called for an accreditation process for material review entities, saying uniformity at the federal level would go a long way in guaranteeing the integrity of organic operations, according to a regulatory update written earlier this year by OTA’s associate director for organic standards and industry outreach Gwendolyn Wyard.

Members of the standards board recommend that accreditation of material review organizations include:

u A requirement that they use the NOP material classification guidance — which is still in development — to determine whether a material is synthetic or non-synthetic;

u Implementation of a quality management system with detailed review protocols and policies as required by ISO Guide 65 accreditation standards;

u Mandatory use of the NOP’s guidance for permitted generic substances, which is under development; and

u A requirement that part of their financing come from manufacturers of products seeking review.

The standards board also recommended that material review organizations be subject to compliance and enforcement actions of the NOP.

McEvoy’s memo did not indicate whether the NOP would develop an accreditation process for material review organizations. He merely said the NOP would report back to the NOSB “on how we plan to proceed with these recommendations.”



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Lynn Steward    
Florida  |  March, 23, 2012 at 02:51 PM

Unannounced inspections would be a good thing in my book.

Gene McAvoy    
Florida  |  March, 23, 2012 at 03:13 PM

How about random testing of imported organic products?

gary suppe    
america  |  March, 26, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Imported organic produce from abroad is scary . Also growers and shippers using the word Organic must have better follow-up to insure they are Organic>

Mischa Popoff    
Osoyoos BC  |  March, 24, 2012 at 10:05 AM

Just how long is Miles McEvoy going to "explore" the idea of surprise inspections? He's entering the fourth year of his term and he has yet to do anything to make organic certification objective. And while we're on the topic, where's the testing? President Clinton and the American Consumers Union wanted organic field testing back in 1997! And McEvoy promised it two years ago!!

Tod    
Reedley, Ca  |  March, 26, 2012 at 09:11 AM

What about random surprise inspections for conventional products while were at it, organic is just the tip of the problem. Have we already forgotten the cantaloupe deaths this winter which had just been inspected by Primus.

Anthony DeAngelis    
New Jersey  |  March, 26, 2012 at 01:18 PM

I agree fully with Gene, and I question the ability and infrastucture to truly VERIFY adherance to either the NOP OR the NOSB standards when it comes to "third-party organic certifiers" doing actual inspections, and their frequency or lack thereof, of proposed Organic facilities and operations in places such as China - and I believe there have already been challenges in that country specifically...and until these entities take a hard line on "material review organizations" and "third-party organic certifiers" operating in foreign countries, and their ability to truly carry the banner of NOSB in properly certifying foreign facilities, not just once, but on an ongoing basis, the consumer will remain at risk of recieving dubious standards for imported products carrying these same certifications, and the value of these organizations as "standard bearers" will continue to be diluted.

USDA spokesperson    
Washington, DC  |  March, 26, 2012 at 11:12 AM

Following the NOSB recommendation the National Organic Program published a proposed rule last April, the first step in rulemaking, that would require certifiers to conduct periodic residue testing of organically produced agricultural products from a minimum of 5% of the operations they certify. While testing currently occurs when there's reason to suspect contamination, the rule, when finalized, would establish a threshold of mandatory testing. To keep up to date on this particular issue visit http://www.ams.usda.gov/NOPFederalRegisterNotices or sign up for updates at http://bit.ly/NOPOrganicInsider.

Stephen Pavich    
Arizona  |  March, 27, 2012 at 12:51 AM

The NOSB is so out of touch, they continue to move at a snails pace, and really don't have a clue as to what really is going on in the field. I am so sick of process, how about some action. You people and I mean your people couldn't blow yourself out of a wet paper bag. I believe that Mischa is right. We need more testing because it is the only way we will be able to catch the bad players. There are only a few bad players and people in the industry know who they are. But the certifiers, NOP, etc. don't have the smarts to get the job done. So we will have to live with "Almost Organic" for many years to come. We don't need an inspector on every street corner, there are plenty of laws on the books to get the job done. Why isn't there more people in the USDA that know how Agriculture works? It is sad but maybe we should have a new job requirement at USDA, that before you come to work for the USDA you must have had a garden for at least 5 years. Is anybody laughing yet.

Luis    
New Jersey  |  March, 17, 2013 at 02:44 PM

Who will be responsible for the cost for the surprise inspections?

paorgfarmer    
pa  |  December, 11, 2013 at 10:59 AM

the farmer of course!

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