The Accredited Certifiers Association (ACA) and the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) on Thursday released a pandemic contingency plan for the organic industry urging certifiers, inspectors, and operations to remain “inspection-ready.”
Port Richey, Fla.-based ACA is made up on representatives of USDA-accredited certification agencies and works to ensure consistent implementation of federal organic regulations. IOIA, based in Broadus, Mont., offers training and networking for its 250 organic crop, livestock, and processing inspectors in over a dozen countries.
The two groups said they are “mindful that consumers seeking organic foods rely on us for continued trust in the integrity of the organic label.”
The new contingency plan document contains a set of general guidelines, tools, and practices that can used to verify organic compliance while travel restrictions are in place and on-site inspections may not be possible.
The goal of the new contingency plan is to provide flexibility for certifiers, inspectors, and operations “to use critical thinking on a case-by-case basis to develop and document specifics for each situation.”
The contingency plan’s general recommendations include:
- Certifiers should use a risk-based assessment to determine what combination of remote inspection and records audit should be used to verify compliance for each existing (already certified) operation. When on-site inspections are possible, certifiers should also use a risk-based approach to prioritize.
- For existing operations who are seeking the addition of new products, land, or facilities, certifiers should evaluate whether a remote inspection can be sufficient to assess compliance.
- New applications for certification should be prioritized for on-site inspections once they become possible, as new operations cannot obtain initial certification without an onsite inspection.
- Accredited certifiers are urged to communicate regularly with their clients, including sharing directly the contingency plan for inspections.
- Certifiers, inspectors, and operations should continue to remain inspection-ready and maintain good documentation of their procedures.
The contingency plan document also includes resources for ACAs and inspectors including:
- Specific recommendations on how a remote inspection or desk audit should be conducted, including options for operations with limited access to technology.
- Opportunities to support inspectors – who are a critical piece of the organic community and whose livelihoods are dramatically impacted by the inability to conduct on-site inspections during this pandemic.
ACA and IOIA said they will continue to monitor and evaluate the state of organic inspections and the implementation of its contingency plan.
The groups also said certified organic producers and operations in the process of applying for certification should reach out directly to their accredited certifier with any questions about the impacts of Covid-19 on their organic certification process.