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USA suspends Control Union of Turkish Office

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Wheat on field. symbol picture © Pixabay/Candiix

The US Department of Agriculture has suspended the accreditation of the Turkey office of Control Union office for certification of the US National Organic Program. At the same time, the authority tightened controls on organic import from the region.

Auditors in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had already examined the Turkey office of Control Union in Izmir and identified numerous deficiencies in July 2017. No improvement was found in another audit at the end of October 2018. Sufficient knowledge and understanding of the US National Organic Program (NOP) regulations were still missing, so the USDA in its notice of suspension.

200 businesses affected in several countries

The ministry already gave a warning to Control Union in the beginning of April 2019; on the 9th May they announced that the NOP certification accreditation of the office was suspended for a year, from 9th May 2019 to 9th June 2020. This means that the office has to cease all certification activities immediately and has to make the files on the certified companies available to the USDA. This applies to all countries managed by the Turkey office: Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Greece.

Nearly 200 NOP-companies in these countries are affected from this. They will have to inform the USDA within two months whether they have found a new certification body or are withdrawing from the control system. The companies not reporting back will also be excluded from the NOP. The ministry further writers that the Control Union can submit a request for reinstatement of the accreditation of its office. For this, it needs to show evidence that all noncompliances have been corrected. In March, the European Commission has already withdrawn the organic certification licence of Control Union for the five countries Kazakhstan, Moldova, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Lack of expertise

Control Union announced that it had voluntarily returned the NOP and EU organic licence for the Turkey office on 17th April 2019. This was done in response to the serious concerns expressed by the EU and USDA, which were confirmed by an internal audit of Control Union. The Turkey office seemed to have lacked the expertise to properly carry out the certification processes, so the office was not able to keep up with the recent growth recently. The responsibility of the Dutch headquarter for the long-lasting conditions were not mentioned in the statement.

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In a letter to the USDA accredited certifiers available to, the authority gave information about the suspension of Control Union. It specifically pointed out that the certification authorities operating in the concerned region must ensure that they have sufficient administrative capacity and qualified inspectors to monitor existing and new companies. The certification authorities taking over companies from Control Union will need to ensure that the companies’ suppliers will also have ongoing NOP-certification.

Strong decline in US organic imports from the region

The USDA further announced in its letter that 180 companies from the Black Sea region (meaning Eastern Europe and Central Asia) had lost its NOP-certification since 2016 – this is 60 percent of all certified companies. The share of cereals and oilseed from this region in the US organic imports has declined from 49 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in 2018.

300 percent more organic harvest than usual

An analysis of NOP producers from Russia, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine showed that they harvest up to 300 percent more on their land than the local average. This points to deficiencies and a lack of transparency in the certification process. Therefore, the ministry issued additional requirements on the certification authorities. They now have to estimate harvest quantities based on the area and have to make an announced visit to half of the grain and oilseed producing companies before the end of this year. There, they should take a minimum amount of two samples to be analysed. Inspectors are also expected to be fluent in the language of the respective countries.

The Turkey office of Ecocert has likewise been criticized by the USDA. October 2018, the certification body reached an agreement with the ministry. The agreement statement says that Ecocert had to submit extensive documents related to trainings materials and records, control procedures and specific company files. Transaction certificates issued by the Turkey office for exports into the EU will need to be removed and approved by the headquarters prior to submission. 

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