Explore Three Top Organic Certification Bodies in Europe
Introducing Ecocert (International), the Soil Association (United Kingdom), and ABCERT (Germany).
An Introduction to European Organic Certification Bodies
Whether you are a farmer, food manufacturer, processor, or trader, organic certification is an excellent way to build trust with your consumers and ensure transparency. Furthermore, organic certification can improve the efficiency of your business as strict regulations and standards ensure that you have a long list of specified processes in place.
"Organic products are those which have been produced, stored, processed, handled and marketed in accordance with precise technical specifications (standards) and certified as ‘organic’ by a certification body." - The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
The European Organic Certifiers Council (EOCC) is an international non-profit organisation that represents organic control bodies and authorities in European agriculture. A comprehensive overview of EOCC’s 49 members is available here. By utilising certification bodies’ expertise, services, and networks, not only will you attain certificates confirming that your products meet all necessary organic standards, but you also receive support in other areas of your business.
If you choose to certify your products via a certification body, the following process awaits you:
1. Choose a certification body and submit your application—you will be required to fill out forms highlighting your operations and goals.
2. Audit—independent auditors assess whether all areas of your business comply with the set standards for the label(s) you would like to certify your products or services with.
3. Certification file review & approval—Certification Officers review the report submitted by your auditors. If you are granted certification, from here on out, you can display the logo associated with the respective standard(s) on your labels and communicate your organic status to your stakeholders and customers. If you are not granted certification, you will be required to adapt the elements of your business that do not comply with the set standards before being awarded certification.
4. Unannounced & annual on-site inspections—your certification body will continue to inspect and audit your entire supply chain on a regular basis. If your business no longer complies with certain standards, you will need to outline and implement the necessary changes if you wish to keep your organic label(s).
Take a closer look at Ecocert, the Soil Association, and ABCERT to gain a better understanding of the services these three topic organic certification bodies offer.
With over 30 years of experience and 28 international subsidiaries in over 130 countries, Ecocert is one of the most established certification bodies in the world. Thanks to its wide-reaching, international network, Ecocert lies at the forefront of traceability standards on a local and global scale. Rooted in France’s organic farming industry, Ecocert has since branched out to a broad spectrum of sectors and now assists a wide range of businesses in the agri-food, homecare, textile, forestry, and cosmetics industries.
"All the standards selected by Ecocert promote practices with a positive impact on the environment and society." - Ecocert
From Organic Farming Europe to Natural and Organic Cosmetics, Ecocert currently certifies sustainable products, systems, and services according to over 150 environmental and social programs. Ecocert also offers a range of tailor-made and ready-to-use training programmes along with a list of consulting services.
Visit Ecocert.com for more information.
The Soil Association
After almost a century of campaigning for better farming practices in the United Kingdom coupled with 50 years of experience of providing certification standards, the Soil Association is not only the UK’s oldest but also the nation’s largest organic certification body. The Soil Association is an accredited auditor for businesses in farming, food and drink, beauty and wellbeing, textiles, and forestry.
"In the UK, we certify over 70% of organic food and drink sold and our organic symbol is the most recognised and trusted."
- The Soil Association
From the point of application to the issuing of licenses, the process of obtaining organic certification through the Soil Association takes on average eight to ten weeks. The Soil Association provides you with access to a wide range of helpful materials on their website, including supplier approval guides to record-keeping templates, labelling criteria to product composition resources.
Built around the organic principles of ecology, fairness, care, and health, the Soil Association’s services reach far beyond those of other certification bodies. The Soil Association supports businesses along the entire organic supply chain with unique services. This includes the provision of technical expertise, support in growing the organic market with communications and marketing materials, regular insights into the market, and trade and new market support, alongside active lobbying, advocating, and representing the organic movement in government and industry policy-making. As a registered charity, the Soil Association initiates projects that help save the soil, capture carbon, and protect wildlife through donations and membership fees.
During Brexit’s implementation period, from 31 January 2020 - 31 December 2020, EU regulations still apply to organic farmers and growers, manufacturers, and traders for the duration of the trade negotiations. For more information and relevant checklists, please visit the Soil Association's Brexit Hub here.
Note: In 2019, the Soil Association announced its formal partnership with Ecocert. Upon joining forces, Ecocert attained preferred rights to audit according to Soil Association’s standards outside of the UK. At the same time, the Soil Association received preferred access from Ecocert to an extensive portfolio of organic and sustainability certification schemes in the UK.
Since its development by one of Germany’s first ecological inspection boards, ABCERT has established itself as the nation’s leading certification body and has served over 15,000 customers in Germany to date. In addition to six locations across the country, ABCERT has expanded its reach with further branches in Italy and the Czech Republic. ABCERT currently certifies organic businesses in the farming, processing, trade, and import industries.
In addition to offering certification for standardised pan-European labels, ABCERT also offers regional certificates for farmers and producers in Germany. These include Bayerisches Bio Siegel, Bio-Siegel Hessen, and Bio-Zeichen Baden-Württemberg. With the demand for regional products steadily increasing, local certifications provide businesses with additional unique selling points while strengthening trust and quality perception amongst German consumer groups. ABCERT also provides certification for internationally recognised labels, such as the Rainforest Alliance’s UTZ and the Ethical BioTrade Standard.
ABCERT demonstrates its commitment to sustainability by publishing its operation in a sustainability report according to the German Sustainability Codex (Deutscher Nachhaltigkeitskodex - DNK). A full copy of their 2018 report can be viewed as a PDF here.
Imagery and logos courtesy of Ecocert (1, 3), the Soil Association (2, 4, 5), and ABCERT (6).