Organic program's accreditation process audited
Organic Trade Association calls audit of the National Organic Program a good "first step"

GREENFIELD, 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 web site.

"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.