What Is Organic Q & A

What is organic?

An organic production system is managed in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act and the National Organic Program to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

Source: USDA - National Organic Program 2001

What does "certified organic" mean?

"Certified organic" means that a nonprofit, state or private certification organization, accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), has verified that products labeled as "organic" meet strictly defined organic standards.

Why is certification important?

  • Provides for product differentiation
  • Ensures product's value
  • Protects consumers from fraud
  • Boosts consumer confidence
  • The National Organic Program requires certification of agricultural products making an organic label claim
  • Assures organic integrity from seed to shelf

What is the National Organic Program (NOP)?

The National Organic Program (NOP) is a federal regulation created by the USDA to:

  • Develop and implement national standards governing the marketing of agricultural products as organically produced
  • Facilitate commerce in fresh and processed food that is organically produced
  • Ensure consumers that such products meet consistent standards

Who sets the guidelines that govern Quality Assurance International (QAI) as an accredited organization of the United States Department of Agriculture?

QAI certifies to the USDA NOP guidelines. QAI does not develop the guidelines.

QAI strictly follows guidelines established by the National Organic Program (NOP), the federal regulation that ensures all USDA requirements are met. As part of its accreditation, QAI updates programs and policies as needed to ensure ongoing compliance with NOP guidelines. Guidelines are available on the NOP website.

More information on the role of accredited organizations is available on the NOP website.

QAI and Organic

What is QAI's mission?

QAI is committed to:

  • Verifying organic integrity
  • Certifying to the federal standard under the NOP
  • Certifying organic growers, processors, traders and distributors in an efficient, timely manner
  • Providing a comprehensive step-by-step application process
  • Providing technical support for expeditious certification renewal
  • Fostering sustainable agriculture and a sustainable environment

What are some of QAI's accreditations?

QAI is committed to the highest quality standards for organic certification and has demonstrated this by achieving the following accreditations:

  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
    • National Organic Program (NOP)
  • International Organic Accreditation Service (IOAS)
    • European Recognition Programme (EU)
    • ISO Guide 65
    • Canadian Organic Regime (COR)
  • Conseil des appellations reservées et des termes valorisants (CARTV, Canada)
    • ISO 14001
  • JAS through our Japan-based, MAFF accredited partner EcoCert

What types of operations does QAI certify?

  • Producers
  • Processors
  • Retailers
  • Traders
  • Private Label
  • Distributors
  • Restaurants
  • Personal Care Products
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Livestock
  • Honey
  • Maple Syrup
  • Poultry and Eggs
  • Sea Vegetables
  • Dairy
  • Mushrooms
  • Hydroponics
  • Greenhouses

Who has received QAI certification?

A list of QAI certified clients can be found in the online directory of certified clients and products.

To what international markets does QAI certify?

QAI is organized to serve clients worldwide through its affiliation with global strategic partners and offices throughout the world. Our staff specialists have expertise in organic regulations established in the EU, Japan, Canada, Korea, and Latin America.

What other certification services does QAI offer?

QAI offers several other certification services, including:

  • A joint kosher and organic auditing program through a partnership with the kosher certifier STAR-K Certification, Inc. This joint auditing program streamlines the auditing process (by auditing for organic and kosher standards) and reduces overall certification costs.
  • The new American National Standard for personal care products, called NSF/ANSI 305: Personal Care Products Containing Organic Ingredients. The consensus-based standard defines organic labeling and marketing requirements for personal care products that contain organic ingredients. NSF/ANSI 305 allows the "contains organic ingredients" claim for products with organic content of 70 percent (O70) or more that comply with all other requirements of the standard. Certification to NSF/ANSI 305 demonstrates to consumers, retailers, health care practitioners and regulators that certified products have been independently evaluated to meet the standard requirements. The NSF 305 personal care logo identifies personal care products that have achieved certification.
  • Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Certification. The GFSI is an initiative from the Consumer Goods Forum (formerly CIES). Certification under this initiative is a requirement for food and ingredient suppliers to many global retailers and manufacturers, including Wal*Mart, Target, Supervalu, Ahold, Tesco, Giant, Wakefern, Carrefour, etc. Standards under this include SQF, BRC, IFS and FSSC 22000.
  • Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)*-benchmarked standards. Certification to global food safety standards provides organizations independent certification that a product, process or service complies with international, regulatory and retailer requirements. Many of the leading global retail and foodservice companies now require suppliers to comply with international food safety standards through independent, third-party inspection. GFSI-benchmarked food safety standards include SQF, BRC, GlobalGAP, FSSC, and IFS , among others.
  • Environmental footprinting. QAI announced a collaboration with Trucost Plc, a leading environmental data firm that has collaborated with WWF, the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, Standard & Poors, and was chosen as the sole quantitative environmental impact data provider for Newsweek's Green Ranking of Companies published September 2009. With Trucost, QAI can calculate a firm's direct and supply chain environmental impacts including greenhouse gas footprint, as well as identifying the financial implications of those impacts.
  • Other sustainability services. QAI and NSF Sustainability can help create value through standards development, independent verification or certification, environmental systems assurance, and advisory services across key market sectors.

Does QAI offer organic consultation?

  • Under the USDA organic regulations, certifiers are not able to be consultants. A list of organic consulting firms is available from QAI upon request, or view the current QAI Organic Consultant List online.

Certification Process

What does QAI's certification process entail?

QAI's Organic Certification Program is a five-step process:

Certification Program Process Chart

For more specific guidelines, please review the program policies for organic system plan certification and the organic certification process chart.

How much does it cost to be certified?

The fee for QAI's organic certification depends on various factors (e.g., size of operation, location, etc.). A fee schedule is provided with the QAI application for organic certification. The actual single fixed fee is determined upon review of each application.

How long does the certification process take?

Generally, the process takes about eight to ten weeks from receipt of payment and all data required for review. QAI also offers various levels of rush services.

How often do inspections occur?

The USDA NOP regulation requires annual inspections.

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