Opening up the Global Organic Movement (Sept 2011)
Updates and Sector News
By Dylan Tanner, Ekobai
IFOAM stands for the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements and is the Bonn, Germany based non governmental organization established in 1972 when the President of the French farmers' organization, Nature et Progrès conceived of a worldwide appeal to “come together to ensure a future for organic agriculture”. Now in its 35th year, IFOAM is the leading umbrella organization uniting the world’s diverse and multifaceted organic movement. The movement and organic certification in particular can trace its roots back fifty years or more and developed in parallel in several countries, resulting in the current system of more than 100 national, regional and local organic standards in operation around the world. In addition the use of the word “organic” in marketing requires adherence to specific governmental regulations – the details of which differ between key markets such as the US, the EU, Japan and China.
A key objective of IFOAM is to try to bring together both the private sector organic standards in operation around the world and also encourage mutual recognition by the various organic regulatory systems. The mission in this is to make international trade in organic products easier while maintaining the integrity of the movement. IFOAM has thus initiated four initiatives towards this aim of unifying the complex world of organic standards.
- The IFOAM Family of Standards is a program that accepts existing organic standards and regulatory systems as “equivalent” and therefore should be mutually recognized in each other’s markets. The list currently includes the regulatory systems of the EU, Japan, the US and Canada. While these systems do not at present mutually recognize each other, IFOAM is engaged, partially via the Family of Standards program in attempting to bring the parties together with this goal in mind. The group also includes more than 20 private sector organic standards such Australia’s NASSA.
- The Community of Best Practices Standard is a programme for individual standards bodies to claim they have achieved assessment against IFOAM’s best practice benchmark.
- The Global Organic Mark is IFOAM’s own branded logo and can be used by any company producing or dealing with products certified to one of the standards or norms in the IFOAM Family of Standards. The aspiration here is to make it easier for buyers and consumers to identify with a single logo or brand, worldwide, when making organic choices. IFOAM however recognizes leading organic brands such as the UK’s Soil Association are well established in their national markets and are unlikely to forego this for a new logo/brand.
- The IFOAM Standard is an off the shelf standard maintained by IFOAM which can be adopted by a certifier, country or sector who may need to build a system from scratch in a short space of time. IFOAM also provides accreditation services to certifiers against IFOAM norms.
In commentary, IFOAM certainly represents the leading organisation uniting the organic certification movement on a global level. Of key importance are their efforts, through the Family of Standards effort in breaking down regulatory and market barriers due to equivalent but different systems in different countries no recognizing each other. IFOAM’s goal, for example, is to make it possible for an exporter of organic cashew nuts from Tanzania who has demonstrated compliance in selling organic to the EU, to be able to use this in selling to the US. It is clear that buyers in both the EU and the US would welcome the removal of such barriers as of course would the Tanzanian exporter. It is also clear that the removal of such barriers (while protecting the integrity of the organic claims) would greatly expand international organic trade.
It should also be stressed that in certain cases, organic suppliers and buyers are not targeting global trade, but regard “buy local” as a concept hand-in-hand with the organic one. Thus a sub-group of organic consumers may, for example, be highly concerned about the carbon footprint of what they buy and also may wish to support local producers. So there will always be room for local organic systems and standards, relating to for example, milk production. Where local organic produce is not available or feasible, representing a huge range of produce from coffee, tea, nuts, many fresh fruits and cotton for example, global trade is necessary and the minimizing of costs associated with certification to multiple standards and norms would be a welcome move.
Ekobai.com is a supplier directory listing over 50,000 companies from around the world producing and selling products certified to sustainability and organic standards such as Fair Trade, FSC, MSC and the Soil Association mark. Our B2B directory is free for companies to list on and the information is open to all viewers at no charge. Companies listed on ekobai.com find new customers from around the world and buyers can short list and contact new suppliers based on ethical and sustainability criteria.