Three Certifications for Food Manufacturers

A closer look at EU Organic, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade.

Society is changing, individuals are questioning now more than ever how and where the products they buy come from and the impacts of their purchases. Therefore, companies face pressure to take an active role in creating social and environmental change. A Unilever study found that amongst 20,000 adults from five countries (UK, US, Brazil, Turkey, India), one third choose brands based on their social and environmental impact.1 The 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study found that 91% of global consumers expect companies to address social and environmental issues.2 The European Commission also found that 94% of Europeans think that the protection of the environment is important to them personally.

To meet the growing awareness of consumers, many food companies turn to Organic, Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade certifications. These certifications confirm a company's standards and actions relating to social, environmental, ethical and food safety issues. To learn more about each certification and the business implications, we summarise the certification process and reveal some of the opportunities and challenges that come with each certification.  

Eu Organic Certification

In 2012, in order to declare organic products throughout the EU, it became mandatory to display the EU Organic certification with a control code and an indication of the origin of the ingredients.4 The EU Organic certification can only be used to label products that originate from organic farming and whose producers and processors comply with the criteria for organic farming as defined by EU law. Criteria that producers and manufacturers need to comply with include that 95% or more of a product’s ingredients must come from organic agriculture and that the ingredients can be no more than 0.9% genetically modified.5,6 

The necessary steps that need to be taken to be permitted to display the EU organic seal vary for traders, importers, producers and processors, and restaurants. However, generally, an audit of the production facility and verification of product related documents will be undertaken by an independent control body. Provided that the company meets all the specifications, a certificate will be issued. The certificate is valid for one year, and a new control must be requested each year for a renewed organic certificate to be issued. 

Thee biggest challenge for the Organic certification is ensuring every product actually meets the high legal requirements of Organic. A strong demand from consumers, and government support in the EU, means that there is huge market potential for producers. However, there are much higher costs and specific techniques needed in organic agriculture which has restricted some farmers from being able to convert to organic farming and led to others falsely labelling their conventional products as certified organic.7

To accommodate the needs of the rapidly growing organic sector, the European Commission is introducing a new legislation from 2021.8 Action points include the introduction of more robust checks throughout the supply chain and simplified production rules. 

As wholesalers, we vet our producers and build long-lasting relationships to be certain that they comply with the requirements of the EU organic certification. 

Rainforest Alliance Certified & UTZ Certified 

Rainforest Alliance’s mission is to conserve biodiversity by promoting sustainability. UTZ’s mission is to make sustainable farming the norm for cocoa, coffee, tea and hazelnuts. In 2017, these two certification organisations announced that they would be merging to form a new, stronger organization to be named the “Rainforest Alliance”. The two certification schemes are currently running parallel while the new certification standard is being developed and will be rolled-out in 2020. The aim is to “maximize positive social, environmental, and economic impact, offering farms an enhanced framework to improve their livelihoods while protecting the landscapes where they live and work.” More information about the merger can be found here.9 In the meantime, companies can continue sourcing and labeling both Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certified products.

At present, for a farmer or farm group to become certified by the Rainforest Alliance, a request must be lodged with the organisation. Representatives from the authorised certification body then make an on-site visit and determine if the farm and the farming processes comply with the Sustainable Agriculture Standard. The certificate is valid for 36 months. The process is similar to obtain UTZ certification. UTZ ensures that certified companies along the entire supply chain of a product comply with their Chain of Custody Standard. The certificate is valid for 365 days after which it must be renewed. 

Studies have shown that the UTZ certification has helped farmers to increase yields, reduce production costs and to use water and soil more wisely. However, the cost of the UTZ certification scheme still prohibits some farmers from becoming UTZ certified. Moreover, the Rainforest Alliance certification currently has no action points for increased wages for workers.10 The Rainforest Alliance is aware of the labor issues in the supply chains of cocoa, coffee, hazelnuts and tea and is striving to better monitor worker welfare standards to secure decent working conditions for farmers. 

Over the coming months we will have a better idea of the new Rainforest Alliance certification and the organisation’s efforts to increase sustainability, environmental equity and economic viability. 

Fairtrade International 

While the fair trade movement dates back to 1988, the Fairtrade International organisation as we know it today, was formed in 1997.11 Fairtrade International ensures minimum prices and demands that producers are paid a premium to be invested back into the community. A more detailed description of the certification can be found here.12

Fairtrade International breaks down the certification process into five steps: application, the audit, evaluation, the decision, and follow ups.13 In order for a company to get Fairtrade certified, an on-site audit is performed at which facilities and agricultural methods are checked, confidential interviews with employees are held and relevant documents are reviewed. After analysis, companies that comply with the Fairtrade certification standards can use the Fairtrade certification label on their products for the following 3 years, after which a new audit must take place in order to renew the certification, should the company still be in compliance with Fairtrade International’s standards. 

Over the years, the Fairtrade certification standard has undoubtedly been successful in transforming the lives of many farmers and in changing consumers expectations of sustainable and ethical products. However, Fairtrade International is not the only label that exists to control social accountability and fair trade in the agricultural industry. In fact, Ecolabel Index currently lists 463 ecolabels worldwide.14 Further adding to this extensive list, there is a recent trend for food manufacturers to set their own ethical and sustainable standards. For example, Mondalez, a multinational confectionery, food, and beverage company started an in-house certification scheme called “Cocoa Life”.15 Sainsbury’s has also stopped using the Fairtrade certification on their teas, having started their own pilot, called “Fairly Traded” which aims to “drive progress in the social, economic and environmental sustainability of farmers, workers and their communities within our global supply chains”. The issue that comes with the proliferation of food labels is that consumers struggle to differentiate between the labels which can lead to misinformation, and with numerous labels attesting to the same thing, consumers are becoming indifferent to the claims of the labels. There is no easy solution to this ‘label fatigue’. Agricultural economist Eva Meemken maintains the need to be more realistic about what certifications such as Fairtrade International can accomplish, “the promise that Fairtrade will lift everyone out of poverty could create problems and reduce consumer trust in the long term”.16 Sustainability campaigners voiced that eco-labelled products need to be consolidated at the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam in June 2019, also criticising that with so many eco labels, standards could be diluted9. However, consumers need not to feel ‘misled’ by the Fairtrade certification. Fairtrade is an established, global sustainability standard and the organisation maintains that in buying products with the Fairtrade certification consumers are contributing to making fair and equitable trade “the norm”.17 

At foodcircle we work with suppliers that are striving to meet the highest environmental and social standards. All our products are certified organic. We are also recognised as a UTZ certified company as our organic cocoa complies with the Chain of Custody Standard for cocoa.  We are in the process of expanding our range to include a selection of products with the Fairtrade certification. 



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