Sanction and appeal procedure

The inspection and certification system is based on identifying shortcomings and applying appropriate sanctions, while offering the operators concerned ways of improving and defending themselves.

  • Sanction

    Ensure the professionalism of the sector

    Certisys Certification System Certisys Certification System(pdf)

    "Sanction": the word always has unpleasant connotations, being synonymous from childhood with punishment. But we sometimes forget that sanctions are the guardian of rigour and this concept is particularly important in the organic sector.

    The application of sanctions is the guarantee of the professionalism of the organic sector which, like any other sector, is not immune from shortcomings or even fraud. When an inspector observes nonconformities, and there is a disagreement regarding such nonconformities, operators have the right to provide their input, thereby initiating a dialogue. The report which identifies the nonconformities also involves an undertaking to remedy them: it is very important for the operator to sign this report, while recording in writing in the same document any disagreement.

    Precise list of sanctions

    The notorious sanctions will be taken on the basis of the report signed by the inspectors. The rules on sanctions are regulated by the public authorities. The sanctions are determined according to a list which takes account of the seriousness of the shortcoming, ranging from a simple observation, or an improvement request, to a total ban on the marketing of organic products.

    In order to ensure an equitable decision-making process, the certification system provides for a separation of powers between the inspection and certification functions. Each has a specific role: the inspectors observe the situation, report, identify and take precautionary measures if the product is not organic, but they do not take any decisions on sanctions. Certification decisions are taken by the head of certification. At this level, in order to ensure that the decisions correspond to the type and scope of nonconformity the decision-making process is not in the hands of a single person: certification is determined by a team of experts.

    If an operator changes inspection bodies, the new inspection body takes account of any sanctions applied by the former inspection body on the basis of data exchanged.
    The implementation of the list of sanctions and the classification of nonconformities consists in encouraging operators to apply the rules properly rather than imposing sanctions, even if it is sometimes necessary to downgrade lots or parcels of land.

    Observations:

    Simple observation: a simple observation is used in the case of a minor irregularity or a deficiency which is clearly unintentional on the part of the operator.
    Improvement request: the Improvement request specifies the irregularity observed, the improvement expected and a deadline for implementing the said improvement.
    Improvement request with a written undertaking: the principle is the same as with an improvement request, but with a written undertaking signed by the operator.

    Warning:

    • The warning is accompanied by an indication of the sanction which will be applied if the operator fails to heed the warning. A warning is always issued if an improvement is not implemented within the period specified in the improvement request.

    Reinforced controls:

    Reinforced controls are systematically decided when a warning has had to be issued; the cost of the reinforced controls are borne by the operator.

    Downgrading and suspensions

    Parcel downgrading: downgrading of a given parcel of land for a specific period.
    Lot downgrading: definitive downgrading of part of a given production.
    Product suspension: the operator is prohibited from marketing a given type of product bearing indications referring to organic production methods for a specific period.
    Total suspension: the operator is prohibited from marketing all products bearing indications referring to organic production methods for a specific period.

    Public interest sanctions

    The high number of parties involved and the steps involved in the sanction decision-making procedure leading to the imposition of sanctions ensures that decisions are as equitable as possible for both the operator and consumers. Sanctions help to raise awareness and develop a sense of social responsibility at the level of not only the operator involved, but also among other operators and consumers.

    Some of these decisions may have far-reaching consequences for operators, but if they were not imposed, and if the matter became public knowledge, this could have even more serious economic ramifications for the sector as a whole and would constitute unfair competition. Operators that do not adhere properly to the organic principle undermine not only their own situation but that of the organic sector as a whole.

  • The internal Certisys appeal procedure

    The internal Certisys appeal procedure

    Certisys has an internal appeal procedure which is activated before a possible administrative appeal to the competent regional ministry of agriculture. Operators may file such an appeal by registered letter within 14 days (15 in Flanders) with effect from the date on which the notification of suspension and/or withdrawal is sent.

    An internal committee composed of several Certisys department heads meets and examines the appeal. If, as a result of additional information provided by the operator, the decision is reviewed, this will be notified within 15 days, in agreement with the competent authorities.