The first audit on organic food production in Ireland by auditors from the EU’s DG Health and Food Safety has found a number of issues in Ireland’s organic production and labelling.
Ireland has just 1.8% of land devoted to organic farming, making it one of the lowest in Europe.
The auditors looked at a range of areas, including; the competent authority (the Department of Agriculture), registration of operators, labelling controls and lab analysis.
They also looked at the five control bodies, those who certify and inspect organic producers and processors.
The five control bodies are the Institute of Marketecology (IMO), the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association Ltd. (IOFGA), the Organic Trust Ltd., the Global Trust Certificate Ltd and the BDA Certification.
Limited Department resources
All Department staff met by auditors were found to be experienced in the area of organic production and were found to be ‘knowledgeable’ for the tasks assigned.
However, despite Department staff attending regular training on organic production and meetings, the audit team was informed, that due to the limited resources, no dedicated staff member is allocated to supervisory activities in the area of processing.
Furthermore, the auditors found that this system is further weakened by the fact that the Department does not take all relevant information into account when supervising control bodies located outside Ireland.
They found that several systematic shortcomings in the performance of control bodies related to the planning of controls and the enforcement of organic rules were overlooked by the Department during supervision of the control bodies.
Not all operators are registered
Ireland has a system in place for the registration of operators as well as to ensure that relevant information is exchanged in case operators change control bodies.
However, it does not ensure that all operators, in particular wholesalers, are registered.
Moreover, the fact that the list of operators does not include all required information and is not regularly updated, reduces the tool's functions for effective verification of the status of organic operators, the auditors found.
Controls at farms observed by the audit were generally well performed by the control bodies’ inspectors in charge.
However, the auditors found that there is no effective supervision of control body controls of processors, and inspections in this area observed during the audit were generally weak.
Meanwhile, controls of labels and traceability systems are insufficient to identify and/or rectify related shortcomings, the auditors also found.
Laboratories for the testing of organic samples are not designated by the Department, providing an unreliable basis for the enforcement of organic rules.
When it comes to contamination of products, control bodies do not always take appropriate measures in case of positive samples to identify the reason for contamination, nor do they always notify the Department of such cases, it found.
Auditors met with Department
Following the audit, a meeting was held with Department representatives where DG Health and Food Safety officials presented the main findings and preliminary conclusions of the audit.
They also made a number of recommendations to improve organic controls and procedures.
The representatives of the CAs offered some initial comments and provisionally accepted the findings.
The Department of Agriculture has been contacted for a comment.
When asked for a comment on the audit, Gillian Westbrook, IOFGA chief executive told the Irish Farmers Journal that she had no comment to make on the audit but that audits take place all the time.
She also said that Ireland’s organic production and labelling controls were sufficient.