The COAB Organic Product Certification System
Certification of organic agricultural products in Canada is a voluntary decision. This decision is made on the part of the organic operator and is determined in large part by the requirements of the buyer, who in turn, make decisions in direct response to the demands of their consumers.
Organic producers and processors who chose to seek certification of their products have a variety of options based on the level of recognition that is required of their product.
As part of an industry-led initiative proposed in 1996, the certification system under development by the Canadian Organic Advisory Board (COAB) is primarily designed to be consistent with the rapidly evolving requirements of certification bodies for organic products entering the international marketplace. Among the requirements required for such certification bodies is compliance with ISO/IEC Guide 65, an internationally recognized document providing operating guidelines for product certification bodies.
Third Country Access
The impetus for this initiative is based in part on the Third Country requirements of the European Union (EU) [see EU Accreditation and Third Countries]. It is expected that such requirements for Guide 65 compliance will be driving forces for regulatory bodies within the United States and Japan to adopt a similar approach to the certification of organic products in the next few years.
The COAB Certification Program
The certification program that COAB is developing has been designed to comply with the requirements of the Standards Council of Canada, the national accreditation body, in accordance with Guide 65.
The main steps of the COAB system, like most organic certification programs, involve some form of application; a pre-inspection site visit and discussion; an on-site evaluation; peer review of results; and issuing of the certificate.
Unlike conventional certification systems, however, the proposed COAB system under development since 1997, has been designed to offer other organic certification bodies an alternative to having to seek SCC accreditation themselves, and the substantial costs involved in this process.
Reduce, reuse and recycle
Several aspects of this system are designed to directly involve current certification bodies. For instance, after thorough evaluation and annual on-inspection, reports will be provided by independent organic inspectors/agencies on behalf of the Canada Organic Advisory Board. Only one inspection is required by COAB.
These reports will be submitted to the COAB Certification Secretariat, an independent branch of the Advisory Board. This peer review committee will be comprised of panel of qualified experts that will be independent of the COAB and will assume full responsibilities for interpreting reports and granting certification approval.
The COAB option will offer certification to any organic enterprise that meets the criteria of the National Standard, however, organic enterprises will have several choices.
They may certify with any one of several organic certification bodies across Canada, certify through those affiliated with the COAB, or may apply directly to the COAB. In the last two cases, COAB will provide certification services, control listing and labelling agreements, and will not delegate the issuing of certificates to independent agencies.
For other independent certification bodies, using the voluntary COAB certification system will provide for a multi-seal product label, indicating that the product is certified under COAB and other certification systems, wherever required.
To meet these requirements, significant restructuring within COAB is planned, in collaboration with the organic sector, to ensure that the expectations of the buyer and consumer are met.