General Information on Organic Standards and Certification

Organic standards are sets of requirements that describe what practices can be considered organic. Typically, organic standards address various aspects of organic production, namely:

  • general farm production requirements and conversion periods
  • crop production requirements and requirements for the collection of wild products
  • animal production requirements (including bee-keeping)
  • processing and handling requirements
  • social justice requirements
  • labeling requirements

The requirements commonly found in organic standards are in the Common Objectives and Requirements of Organic Standards (COROS).

However, not all organic standards cover all of those areas, e.g. some organic standards do not cover animal production, or address social justice. Some organic standards cover additional or more detailed areas, such as aquaculture, or mushroom production. The IFOAM Standard is an example of a standard covering all of the above areas.

Links to databases and overviews on organic standards

  • Organic standards that are endorsed by the international organic movement are listed in the IFOAM Family of Standards.
  • A list of existing organic government regulations and their implementation status is published annually in The World of Organic Agriculture.
  • The German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection collects and publishes full texts of various international organic standards on the following website: http://www.organic-standards.info.
  • Information on organic standards with a focus on Europe, as well as analyses of differences of various organic standards in relation to EU organic regulation can be found in the Organic Rules and Certification database.
  • Also available: FAO collection of major organic standards and regulations. 

Organic Certification & Alternative Guarantees

Organic producers can decide to comply with the organic standard of their choice. However, to access certain markets and be able to call their products organic in those markets, they must often be certified to a particular standard or government regulation. If they want their product to bear a particular private label, they also need to be certified to the corresponding private standard.

Certification is the procedure by which operators receive written and reliably endorsed assurance that they are producing specified products in compliance with a particular standard. The process of assurance is crucial to creating consumer trust. In the organic sector, to date this has most commonly happened via:

  • Individual third party certification by an independent certification body; and
  • Group certification, whereby a group of farmers implement an Internal Control System (ICS) and are certified collectively by a third party certification body, which assesses the performance of this system.

A high number of certification bodies offer organic certification services worldwide. Some of those bodies are governmental/public, but the majority are private organizations.

  • A select number of certification bodies have obtained accreditation by the International Organic Accreditation Service  (IOAS) under the IFOAM Organic Guarantee System. Those can be found here. More information on the IFOAM accreditation programs can be found here.

More background on the role of organic certification and its historical development is offered through the Organic Academy of IFOAM - Organics International. 

Assurance processes can be varied and innovative. One such innovative approach is Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), sometimes called participatory certification. This system involves producers and consumers in the guarantee process. Learn more here.

Further Information

For a broader perspective on potential assurance models in the social-environmental standard sector, refer to the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for Assuring Compliance with Social and Environmental Standards.

For tools and methodologies for implementation of social standards, please see Recommentdations for Inspection of Social Standards.