Irregularities at organic inspection body: certification partially banned

The Dutch Control Union gave conventional products the organic seal, says the European Commission and draws consequences.

Organic or not? The label is crucial Photo: dpa

The EU Commission has banned one of the world’s largest organic inspection bodies from certifying imports from five countries because of unreliability. The agency announced in mid-March in the Official Journal of the European Union the decision to revoke within 20 days the license of the Dutch Control Union Certifications "for all product categories in relation to Kazakhstan, the Republic of Moldova, Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates."

The commission is doing "whatever is necessary to protect the EU organic label so that consumers can trust it," an agency spokeswoman said. When asked by the taz why the Commission continues to allow the inspection body to award the European organic label in around 125 other non-EU countries, it would not answer.

Among other things, organic farmers must refrain from using synthetic chemical pesticides, which protects nature and health. Whether farmers adhere to these organic rules is disputed in the case of some imports from non-EU countries.

The Commission said it had investigated suspected irregularities. According to the statement, Control Union had certified goods as "organic" but had "not provided timely conclusive answers to the Commission’s various requests for information" on the cases. "In addition, ‘Control Union Certifications’ failed to demonstrate the traceability and organic status of these products." The company also issued a certificate of inspection for products that had already had their organic label revoked by an EU state because of pesticide residues, according to the commission.

Products with dubious organic status

Control Union left a request from taz for comment unanswered. The Commission did not want to give any further details when asked. It is known, however, that oilseeds and feedstuffs repeatedly came onto the market from the five states whose organic status turned out to be dubious. "Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have played an important role in the trade in fraudulent goods from Ukraine, Russia and Central Asia for years," a controller told taz, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. "Turkey as a physical transshipment hub, the Emirates as a virtual trading hub used not only to save taxes but also to cover tracks." Control Union has certified controversial firms for years, he said.

But the business of such firms has become more difficult as the EU has tightened controls on imports from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan since 2015 following a fraud scandal. The commission required inspection bodies to carry out at least one additional unannounced inspection of each company in those countries, in addition to the announced annual inspection. Each shipment to the EU must be sampled and tested for pesticide residues before export and again after import. In addition, the Commission is urging the authorities and private inspection bodies of the EU countries in a guideline to check all documents relating to imported goods from these countries more carefully. Since then, problems with imports from these countries have become more noticeable.

The Organic Trade Association, an organic industry organization in the U.S., warned its members after the Control Union license revocation. "In Europe, there are rumors that a large amount of sunflower seed, flaxseed and corn has already been diverted from the EU destination to the United States or will be soon," according to an internal email obtained by the taz. U.S. organic companies should also particularly scrutinize edible beans, wheat, flaxseed, soybeans and sunflower meal from Eastern Europe and Turkey.

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