The history of the IOAS began with the unanimous vote of the IFOAM GA in Sao Paulo in 1992 to proceed with implementing the IFOAM Accreditation Programme based on the IFOAM Basic Standards and the IFOAM Criteira (requirements for certification bodies that had been developed over the previous two years.) An interim IFOAM Accreditation Programme Board (IAPB) was appointed by the World Board of Directors.
The first application filed was from KRAV (Sweden) in July of 1993 followed by Biokultura (Hungary), Biodinamico (Brazil), FVO (USA), NASAA (Australia), OGBA (USA), Bioagricoop (Italy) and OCIA (USA). By the end of February 1997, twelve certification bodies were accredited and 6 were applicants.
The IFOAM World Board of Directors and the IAPB had been discussing the possibility of establishing a separate legal entity to operate the IFOAM Accreditation Programme for some time. This culminated in the signing of an agreement between IFOAM and the newly formed International Organic Accreditation Service (IOAS) in March 1997. The IOAS was incorporated in the USA as a non-profit organization with IFOAM as the sole member. The IOAS has only one member, being IFOAM.
This change did not cause any significant disruption to the operation of the IFOAM Accreditation Programme. The IAPB became the Board of the new company. All policies and procedures related to the IAP were adopted by the IOAS and the sole staff member Ken Commins was retained as Executive Director.
1997 was also the year in which Gunnar Rundgren stepped down. Gunnar had served as the Chair of the IAPB and subsequently as the President of the IOAS from the IAP inception in 1992. Bo van Elzakker stepped up from his position as vice President to take up the Presidency.
Major landmarks in 1998 were the employment of a second professional person and the establishment of an accreditation committee. Both were necessitated by the increased volume of work the IOAS was undertaking. Jan Deane was employed in March 1998.
Over the next few years the IOAS and the IFOAM Accreditation Programme grew rapidly.
The number of staff continued to increase to take care of the increase in workload and to ensure a high level of service. David Crucefix was appointed as Assistant Executive Director in 2000 and in early 2002 Stephanie Goldfinch was appointed as Assistant Programme Manager and Amaia Aldana as an Accreditation Officer. Interestingly of the 5 staff persons in 2002, 4 are still currently working for the IOAS.
The IOAS has undergone many changes over the years not least in the number and types of services it offers. The IAPB had been writing compliance reports for some EU Member States and this work was continued and extended under the IOAS. Most significantly, in January of 2003, in response to demand from certification bodies, the IOAS launched the ISO/IEC Guide 65 accreditation programme.
Since then the IOAS has increased its offerings to include accreditation against the Global Organic Textile Standard, Textile Exchange and the organic Cosmetic schemes Natrue and Cosmos.
On a Friday evening in November 2005, the large building housing the IOAS head office in Jamestown North Dakota burnt to the ground. The virtual nature of the IOAS, with employees working from their home locales, meant that there was no disruption of work with operations functioning normally on the Monday following.
By December of 2005, 36 certification bodies were within the programme, of which 33 were accredited and 3 were under evaluation. It also conducts evaluation work as a Conformity Verification Body recognized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and provides evaluation reports for use by the EU Commission under the equivalence option of EU Council Reg 834/2007.
In order to ensure that its work is of the highest standards and that this has not been impaired by the growth it has experienced, the IOAS has continued to subject itself to external oversight. In 2004 the IOAS was recognised as operating both the IFOAM and ISO/IEC Guide 65 Accreditation Programmes in line with ISO/IEC Guide61 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, part of the US Department of Commerce. It is also subject to continued surveillance for compliance with ISO/IEC 17011 by the Canadian Food inspection Agency and more recently successfully completed a peer review by the Pacific Asia Co-operation (a regional Group of the International Accreditation Forum) and consequently signed the MLA for ISO/IEC 17065 accreditation.
While the IOAS has seen significant growth in the number of accreditation issued and the number of accreditation programs it has also seen much stability. Of the 14 current members of the Board or the accreditation committee half have served for over 10 years. Some Board members have served from its inception in 1997. Over the course of the first 20 years only 7 people have filled the three seats on the Executive Board. The Executive Director remained unchanged for the first 14 years of the organization’s life.
The IOAS currently accredits over 50 certification bodies issuing a total of 137 accreditations.