How Do Organic Accreditations Actually Work?

How Do Organic Accreditations Actually Work?
Are you more swayed by an organic accreditation or a pretty picture? Like this one. Nice isn’t it.

There are dozens of organic certification schemes. The way most of the big ones work is that they certify a particular supplier and also have a schedule of the actual products covered by that certification.

So you’d have them come and certify your company and typically a certificate saying so. There would also be a list of all the things that you supply that the certificate covers. This is usually a separate document – it is likely to be changed from time to time. There is nothing stopping you from supplying other things so long as you don’t claim them to be organic.If you want to check that a given ingredient is organic you’d need to look at both the certification of the supplier and the individual ingredients listing. The supplier might well put references to the certification on their own documents, but it is rare for the certification body to issue certificates for individual materials.

The certification bodies are businesses who charge the supplier for their services, so you can be pretty confident that they will police the suppliers whose certification they are using to make sure they don’t make any claims that aren’t covered. That would mean the supplier was getting a free ride at the certifier’s expense. You can be less confident that the standards are applied rigorously because turning down a supplier means loss of revenue to the certifying body.

The Soil Association is one body that in my experience is pretty genuine in its assessments and meticulous in enforcing its standards. You can check up on whether a particular company is approved by them on their website

They have linked up with a European body called Ecocert to launch a joint standard called Cosmos. This looks set to become the most widely recognised standard outside the US. It has already got a reasonable amount of brand awareness in the industry.  But there are enough other options out there to make sure it won’t have a clear run.

The procedure for most standards is similar. The accrediting body inspects the producer to ensure everything is in order. The inspectors are often independent contractors hired by the owners of the standard. They will look at the premises and check out the paperwork. This will take about a day and will be done every year.

On the whole, I am not particularly impressed by the whole organic accreditation system. You do get some independent scrutiny of the claims the companies are making from it, which is a good thing.  And the need to meet the requirements of the standard do ensure that the products are made according to fairly good systems – though there are other ways that this can be achieved.

The real problem though is what does organic even mean  when it comes to personal care products?  The Soil Association has at least been involved with organic stuff for a long time and so they have achieved a consistency by dint of sticking at it.   Other proponents of organic products often don’t seem to have a clear idea themselves of what exactly the term means.  From a consumer’s point of view the only chance you have is to read the standard being claimed and see if if chimes with what you personally believe in.  I think most of us will just look at the picture on the bottle.

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