Your money or your… Accreditation

Food accreditation is everywhere now – but who is certifying the certifiers?


The phrase ‘uncertified organic’ is cropping up (apologies) more and more regularly, to describe product from farmers who follow organic practices but bluntly refuse, on either moral or fiscal grounds, to pay an organisation large sums of money to tell them and their customers what they already know.


Could it be argued that these certifying organisations, originally set up with the best will in the world to guide trainees in organic production and protect the nai?ve from agricultural con men, have reached the point where their attitudes have become more commercial than philanthropic?


The objective of these certifying organisations is surely to encourage the widespread uptake of organic production methods. To say, ‘you can only join the club if you write me a nice cheque,’ is surely counter productive.


Granted, there has to be some form of certification, but why can’t it be done by DEFRA inspectors at the expense of the taxpayer – arguably a more beneficial use of taxpayers’ money than some other ‘alternative’ causes – as opposed to one of a number of third party commercial enterprises, some of whom appear to create more and more hoops for producers to jump through in order to justify inflated fees?


It is not just in the organic arena that this unwelcome syndrome is raising its head. The last 10 years has seen an explosion in food industry accreditation and third party inspectors to the extent that what started out as independent assessment of working practices has turned into an industry employing thousands. Legislation has been the fuel for this explosion and the costs of managing adherence to their standards has become a major cost to food industry operators in whatever sphere.


The problem with having third party organisations as inspectors is that the nature of profit making organisations is that they have to keep coming up with ‘new products’ in order to extract maximum revenue from their ‘clients.’ Stories prevail from another sector of the industry of certifiers dividing what for years had been a single accreditation survey into two or more parts, then charging the same fee for each part as they had previously done for one! If the operator wishes to maintain their accreditation, they have no alternative but to accept this.


Of an even more unhealthy aspect, there are other examples of certifiers selling their services to the customers of their clients, whereby they would oversee all process and due diligence of their suppliers, i.e. the certifier’s original client! The certifier extracts a fee from both parties with the unpleasant implication that if the supplier wishes to keep its valued client, it has to toe the line as far as the certifier is concerned.


The word ‘racket’ springs to mind. Whereas the first instance is tantamount to blackmail, this is pure Al Capone, short of the bullets!