For 30 years, organic regulators have been establishing organic control and inspection systems both at national and international levels. The result is a holistic but complex system of local, national, and international public standards. Hundreds of certification bodies worldwide have to ensure that any operator who grows, processes, or sells organic products with an organic claim or label complies with the corresponding rules and regulations. And all certification bodies must be accredited by an accreditation body against ISO 17065 that establishes their compliance with policies and procedures of transparent and unbiased decision making. Additional to accreditation, registration with competent state authorities is foreseen that authorises them to inspect and certify against organic regulations. On top of the public system, private standards, controls, certification, and approval add another complex system.

digital audits

Covid has accelerated digital controls

The Corona-crisis has greatly accelerated digitalisation within the audit and certification sector. Hampering national and international travel, the pandemic forced many inspectors to stay at home. Certification bodies who already had the technology and workflows in place to conduct remote audits now had a big advantage, whilst others had to adapt overnight to this new world. Especially for organic processors and traders, who usually register all flows of goods within their enterprise resource planning systems, remote audits and inspections can be easily implemented. Structured work packages can be handled step by step without on-site time pressure, saving money, time, travel stress, and emissions.

The Corona-crisis has greatly accelerated digitalisation within the audit and certification sector

Ensuring integrity through satellite data

Even farm audits can partially be conducted remotely. To ensure the integrity of such procedures, satellite-based technologies are becoming more and more important. “Together with Organic Services, we are currently developing an Organic Plausibility Checker. The system will greatly facilitate the work of inspectors and certifiers by reducing or replacing certain on-site activities, ease the documentation burden of farmers, and improve fraud prevention through accurate data”, says Reaid Alam. He is the founder and CEO of Green Earth Observations, a company specialising in monitoring and verifying agricultural farmland through space technology.

Farm audits can partially be conducted remotely

To check organic plausibility, an app will combine satellite data with organic supply chain data and enable farmers to contribute to credible self-audits. “The app can, for example, guide the farmer to a certain place on the farm, tell him to point the smartphone in a certain direction, and to take a photo. This photo will then be registered with its coordinates and a time stamp and be automatically uploaded to a secure platform that can be accessed by the certification body’s inspectors”, explains Mr. Alam. The inspector can focus on checking the farm’s documents, such as procurement protocols and accounting reports, from anywhere in the world. By comparing the uploaded photos with the farmer’s documented information on field sizes, crop, and yield, it is possible to conclude whether the provided information is accurate or not. These possibilities should not replace farm visits altogether – but they can be a great help in verifying information even at short notice.

Author: Gerald A. Herrmann, director of Organic Services | www.organic-services.com

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