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.