There is sometime confusion between ‘certification’ and ‘accreditation’. The main difference is the level in the hierarchy of the conformity system. Put simply, certification is performed by certification bodies and involves a review of information and an on-site inspection or audit of the production facility. Accreditation functions at the ‘higher’ level and is verification by an accreditation body that the certification body is competent to do its work. If you are an farmer, manager of a factory or import organic or sustainable products you need to talk to a certification body. You can search the IOAS database of accredited bodies for a service provider in your country or one providing the type of service you need.
Accreditation is a demonstration of competence to perform certification against a certain standard and is part of an international mechanism for building trust between suppliers and buyers. Certification bodies may be legally required to be accredited, be required by buyers of certified products or it may be just a way of demonstrating competence to their clients.
Accreditation is performed by government departments, by national accreditation bodies designated by government or by a number of private non-profit bodies which normally work internationally and are driven by a specific mission. The IOAS is one of the latter.
The IOAS is a non-profit and completely independent organisation which works with schemes worldwide (public or private) that meet our own mission to expand organic and sustainable agriculture and related areas. We are therefore not a generalist like most accreditation bodies but specialised in these areas so we really do know what we are talking about. One of most frequent comments from IOAS clients is how much they learn during the assessment process. We are committed to providing a high quality service of high integrity at the lowest possible cost to certification bodies and have developed a system to enable certification bodies to effectively and economically achieve multiple accreditations.
The IOAS is not part of government so works with scheme owners that have designated it as a body competent to perform this role. Some of these scheme owners are government bodies and others are private schemes. See scheme descriptions for more details.
The Canadian government also conducts its own assessment and surveillance of the IOAS against ISO/IEC 17011 and we are proud to be designated as one of only four Conformity Verification Bodies under the Canadian Organic Products Regulations of 2009.
The document ISO/IEC 17011: ‘Conformity assessment – General requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies’ lays down internationally agreed rules for how accreditation should be performed.
The IOAS is proud to be an International Accreditation Forum (IAF) Accreditation member. The IAF is the world association of Conformity Assessment Accreditation Bodies and other bodies interested in conformity assessment. Accreditation assures users of the competence and impartiality of the body accredited.
We also are honoured to have full membership of PAC (Pacific Accreditation cooperation) a regional group of the International Accreditation Forum. PAC represent the interests of Asia-Pacific economies nationally, regionally and internationally in the area of certification / registration body accreditation and related activities.
The IOAS was originally set up by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), a non-profit international organisation based in Germany. IFOAM promotes and lobbies for greater adoption of organic agriculture and is recognised as a standard setter by the International Standards Organisation (ISO).
The IOAS is now an independent non-profit organisation registered in USA. Our income only comes from the services we provide; accreditation, assessment, training or projects in the field of conformity, assessment and sustainability standards.
Our structure is designed to deliver the same integrity, representation and accountability that we encourage in our clients.
The IOAS is funded wholly from the services it provides. It receives no grants, donations or government funding that might undermine its independence. Fees from assessment and accreditation services make up more than 90% of its income with the remainder coming from training and other projects related to our mission.
Approval worldwide is guaranteed within the schemes that the IOAS operates because it is the scheme owner that defines the rules for recognition and acceptance. Some of these scheme owners are government bodies and others are private schemes.
This means that a product certified by an IOAS accredited certification body in one country will be recognised and accepted by a buyer in another country working under that same scheme. However, the interoperability of different schemes cannot be guaranteed, even between different organic agriculture schemes where country or private rules may differ. Equivalence of standards is however in operation at the country to country level and also between private schemes. We are designated as one of only four Conformity Verification Bodies under the Canadian Organic Products Regulations of 2009 and have full membership of PAC (Pacific Accreditation cooperation) a regional group of the International Accreditation Forum.
Talk to us about your needs before you apply to ensure that your accreditation provides you with what you need.
To date only the USDA can provide accreditation to the US National Organic Program (NOP) and only MAFF can provide accreditation to the Japanese Agriculture Standard. However access to these markets can be provided via equivalence agreements. For example a certification body operating outside of the USA and accredited by the IOAS to the Canada Organic Regime and applying relevant addition measures under the US-Canada equivalence agreement can provide access to the US market without being directly accredited by the NOP.
This depends as much on you as a certification body as it does on us. An unhurried assessment is likely to take you 12 months from application to final decision. However if you are well prepared and willing to respond quickly on corrective actions, the process could be completed in 9 months.
Our fee schedule is publicly available and is made up of a payment for work component and a payment for use based upon turnover (annual fee). The latter means that certification bodies with low turnovers, perhaps in developing countries, pay less than larger bodies in the north. This is an intentional feature of the IOAS system. However to protect the larger bodies from paying too much there is also an income ceiling above which the annual fee does not increase and in special cases a fixed annual fee for ‘limited scope’ schemes. You can obtain an idea of typical fees from the examples provided. We however recommend you contact us for a quotation specific to your needs.
Certification bodies complete an application form and then submit a ‘CB profile’ and their quality system documents using an electronic checklist. The documentation is reviewed which normally gives rise to non-conformities which must be resolved. An on-site visit takes place after which another period of corrective actions is allowed. Assuming all important issues are resolved, accreditation can be awarded.
We offer an increasing number of accreditations within the organic sector and for related sectors and have developed a system whereby we can perform multiple assessments alongside each other and at minimal extra cost. You can indicate what accreditations you want to apply for on the common application form.
The IOAS conducts annual surveillance through annual reporting and on-site visits are based on risk. Good performance and demonstration of a stable quality system allows for on site visits in alternate years in most schemes. Poor performance may result in annual on-site visits. The IOAS works on a 4 year cycle, so full reassessment takes place every four years. Scheme owners may impose their own surveillance requirements which may result in more frequent on site visits and client visits to ensure full coverage of categories of activity and countries.