Emerging Trends in Certification in Times of Pandemic
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
In our days ´, with so-called 2.0 certification procedure before Corona, the CBs try to integrate software checklists, electronic certificates and a certificates database for the assessment that was formerly based only on physical on-site inspection, document reviews and tests of pesticides and all un-allowed substances. Michel commented: „We are trying to use some electronic tools but we have not really arrived in the world of digitalization.“, says Michel. Padmanabhan, Consultant Executive Director PGS - Organic Council.
The first speaker was Michel Reynaud, Vice President of Ecocert Group. He gave us an overview of how his certification body and others in general are dealing with the COVID related challenges. „We cannot continue with physical visits on farms and manufacturing sites but we have to maintain the contact to our clients and control the process in order to guarantee by law the integrity of the organic products to keep the trust of consumer high“, says Michel.
In our days ´, with so called 2.0 certification procedure before Corona, the CBs try to integrate software checklists, electronic certificates and a certificates database for the assessment that was former based only on physical on-site inspection, document reviews and tests of pesticides and all un-allowed substances. Michel commented: „We are trying to use some electronic tools but we have not really arrived in the world of digitalization.“
Authorities are open for Digitalization but rely on paper yet
Interesting enough the authorities (e.g. EU) are now during the pandemic very open to finding solutions for the controls and they accept some derogation (see chart). CBs have to react very quickly in times of pandemic. Now some are in a stage going from 2.0 to 2.0Hybrid to reach the certification 3.0. I think Ecocert is in a pre-stadium of that by now. In future, after COVID, we must move from a checklist approach to even more data management and integrate more new technologies like drones, geotagged photos and satellite images. That will be for sure a step by step approach in some countries faster in some slower.
We have to become more professional
Frank Gerriets, Director of Organic Services, Germany names his presentation "Digitalization is the key for further development of the sector". COVID is only one driver of this development, he says. But the evolution of technology is going very fast since the beginnings in the 1980s and today many of us are used to manage their cell phones and computers very effectively. Today we also have a very professional organic market with a volume of more than 100bn $ and the sector goals to grow further. So the organic industry has to professionalize data management and controls, too.
„Going more digital is an accelerator for more organic, it is the base for scaling up.“
In certification, we have gone some steps towards digitalization yet but there is a lot of paperwork, too, which is the door opener for fraud. Frank introduced Check Organic, a cloud-based integrity management system (More on Organic Services YouTube). Food fraud is not at all an only organic problem: worldwide fraud causes 90bn $ damage every year, he explained. Even more, we need to protect our organic market and its credibility! The technology is available and needs to be implemented at all levels.
Positive effects will be that bureaucracy and costs will be reduced as well as fraud cases and the credibility of organic brands will be highly supported. „Going more digital is an accelerator for more organic, it is the base for scaling up.“
Remote audits can cause many positive effects
Dr Binay Kumar Choudhury, Chairman of Control Union, founded 1920 in the Netherlands and worked globally today. He told that the discussion about remote audits is going on for years and not only an effect of travel restrictions due to COVID.
He listed the advantages, among others reducing travel costs or improved organization and confirmation of required documentation. But there are also limitations and first-hand observations cannot be replaced completely, he emphasized. Traceability is the future, he explained and mentioned the APEDA trace net system and the EU TRACES.
Recording of the Webinar
Smallholders are the backbone of organic agriculture
Vishala Padmanabhan is the CEO of PGS Organic Council. She's also Co, founder of Buffalo, back, collective, a platform to bring together small and marginal, organic farmers, producer companies, and consumers of organic food. Vishala is a strong believer in local food systems, the importance of small and marginal farmers in food justice and the conservation of biodiversity.
As she emphasized, it is of high importance for PGS to follow the four principles of Organic Agriculture (IFOAM): Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care. Small and marginal farmers make around 80% of farmers in India. Why it is so important to support smallholders, she asked and explained that PGS is a stepping stone for this group to get access to the organic market.
During pandemic times the farming activities continued, but PGS could go further with the local peer reviews and the localized data collection, also the local markets were functioning. We could do more for the community during the shutdown: we relieved food to landless migrants and help health centres, she tells us and we learned that local systems were more resilient. Although peer reviews worked well also in times of pandemic, PGS also takes the challenge to adopt some simple technology (data access) and to integrate consumers.
Vishala: "Audits are important, but I also view Indian farmers as experts. I’m happy that organic markets are growing worldwide in the way they do."
Dr Binay: "Transparency is a key to make consumers more confident and give them the chance to follow their product from farm to table."
Frank: "The situation in India is very special and I appreciate the PGS system, which is great. But the fact is that if organic products should be exported a third-party certification is necessary and that seems to be still not clear."
Michel: "Technology for sure is a helpful tool for certification but we must keep in mind that this is only one tool to solve and maintain certifications in times of pandemic. It is very important to know that the social human contact is not to be neglected in future, too."