Massachusetts, January 14, 2005: The Organic
Trade Association (OTA) today commended the U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) for voluntarily undergoing an
audit of its accreditation process for certifying agencies
under its National Organic Program (NOP) and for publicly
posting the results and its response on the www.ams.usda.gov/nop
"The voluntary audit by the American National
Standards Institute (ANSI) of NOP's accreditation program
is a good first step. The report highlights what can
be done to improve NOP's organizational structure and
policies concerning accreditation as well as any procedural
and documentation changes needed to have an improved
accreditation program," Katherine DiMatteo, OTA's
executive director, said.
The audit identifies a variety of issues raised by
ANSI, including the need for a quality manual. The report
makes recommendations that support many of the concerns
raised by OTA and its members in the past.
In its response, NOP outlines how it will resolve deficiencies
pointed out by ANSI. Sometimes, however, it rejects
the ANSI findings.
"OTA would urge NOP to adhere to the spirit of
the ANSI findings as well as the suggested steps needed.
For instance, one finding recommends that NOP have procedures
for resolving complaints, appeals and disputes concerning
the handling of accreditation matters. Although NOP
seems to believe it already has this area adequately
covered, OTA sees the need for specific procedures in
this area," DiMatteo said, adding, "The industry
needs clear processes that are evenly applied on appeals."
While offering kudos to USDA for the voluntary audit,
OTA once again called for NOP to establish a peer review
panel for certification agencies, as mandated by the
Organic Foods Production Act.
"The ANSI audit should not been seen as a substitute
for the mandated peer review panel for certification
agencies. The latter is still needed," DiMatteo
said. Also, making the improvements noted in the report
will require adequate funding. Thus, OTA will continue
to work diligently to advocate for the resources needed
to provide a strong organic program.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the business
association representing the organic agriculture industry
in North America. Its approximately 1,500 members include
growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers'
associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants,
retailers and others.