Equitool is a guide to help decision-makers assess whether an organic production and processing standard applicable in one region of the world is equivalent – that is, not identical but equally valid – to another organic standard. This tool facilitates trade while also safeguarding organic production according to local socio-economic and agro-ecological conditions.
The second tool, IROCB (International Requirements for Organic Certification Bodies) is a minimum set of performance requirements for organic certification bodies that will enable import of products certified under foreign control systems.
The tools were approved at the final meeting of the International Task Force on Harmonization and Equivalency in Organic Agriculture (ITF) in Geneva. The task force, formed in 2003 by FAO, UNCTAD and IFOAM, comprises representatives of governments, intergovernmental agencies, and key stakeholders from the private sector, including certifiers and accreditors.
A growing market
Organic trade is expanding at the rate of 15-20 percent per year, and more than 100 countries currently export certified organic products. But international organic trade is hindered by a multitude of standards, regulations, and conformity assessment systems.
Over 400 public and private certification bodies now operate in the global organic marketplace. Products certified as organic under one system are not easily recognized as organic under another. This causes major headaches and costs for organic producers and exporters wishing to sell in different markets.
These barriers can put the economic, environmental, health and social benefits of organic agriculture beyond the reach of many producers, particularly resource-poor farmers in developing countries. It also leaves consumers paying higher prices for a more limited selection of products.
“The organic market is steadily expanding, new issues are emerging and organic standards and certification procedures are in constant development,” says FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Mueller.
“Rather than losing time, money and markets in this jungle of standards and regulations, the ITF has laid the basis for harmonious cooperation for those interested in facilitating the growth of the organic sector, while maintaining the integrity of the system,” Mueller adds.
The ITF advocates that organic trade should be based on international standards and the principle of equivalence, and that organic certification bodies worldwide should meet common performance requirements.
There are currently two international standards for organic agriculture – the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organically Produced Food and the IFOAM Basic Standards.