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Quality and Sustainability Certifications in Farming

When making their food choices, consumers are increasingly health-conscious, and the demand for products that meet specific standards of quality, sustainability, and safety is on the rise. Agriculture certifications are proof that the food the customers purchase aligns with their values and expectations. Among the opportunities available, organic certification stands out as one of the most recognisable and widely sought-after. However, there are other certifications that cater to distinct aspects of agriculture, each with its unique set of standards and benefits.

Organic Farming

Organic Farming is the most popular certification in agriculture. It is rooted in the principles of organic farming, which emphasises the use of natural processes, materials, and sustainable practices to cultivate crops and raise livestock. Organic agriculture seeks to minimise the use of synthetic pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and synthetic fertilizers while focusing on soil health, biodiversity, and animal welfare.

To earn an Organic Farming certification, farmers and producers must adhere to a stringent set of standards and undergo regular inspections by accredited certifying agencies. These standards typically include soil quality, crop rotation, pest management, animal husbandry, and post-harvest handling. The certification process can be time-consuming and expensive, but it allows products to bear the coveted “organic” label, which often leads to higher prices in the market because of the consumers’ trust in organic practices.

Any person or business that produces or processes organic products must be certified by a government-approved control body and inspected at least annually.

If sustainable development is your farm’s thing and you want the “Organic” label on your products, you can find out how to get organic certification in the UK here.

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) were the first UK organic body that was approved by the Government to conduct inspections and certify businesses across the whole supply chain.

Other Certifications in Agriculture

While organic certification is the most popular one, various other certifications in agriculture address relevant aspects of sustainability, animal welfare, and production methods:

1. Fairtrade Certification

Fairtrade focuses on promoting equitable trading relationships between producers in developing countries and consumers worldwide. It ensures fair wages and working conditions for farmers and workers, emphasising social sustainability. Fairtrade uses independent certifiers audit producers, traders, and companies to check compliance with its economic, social, and environmental standards, including that producers receive the Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium. Their scheme is compliant with ISEAL’s Assurance Code, an internationally recognized code for sustainability standards.

This certification verifies that products do not contain genetically modified organisms, providing transparency and choice for consumers concerned about GMOs. The Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit organisation whose mission is to offer rigorous product verification and trustworthy education that empowers people to care for themselves, the planet, and future generations. Their Product Verification Program (PVP) allows participants to have their goods assessed for compliance to the Non-GMO Project Standard.

3. Rainforest Alliance Certification

Focused on tropical agriculture, this certification emphasizes environmental and social sustainability, aiming to conserve ecosystems and improve the well-being of farmers and local communities. The seal means that the certified ingredient was produced using methods that support the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. The Rainforest Alliance seal promotes collective action for people and nature, highlighting the beneficial impacts of responsible choices, from farms and forests to the supermarket check-out.

4. USDA Certified Biobased Product Label

This certification verifies the percentage of biobased content in a product, encouraging the use of renewable materials and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The BioPreferred Program is a US Department of Agriculture (USDA)-led initiative that supports the development and expansion of markets for biobased products. Created in 2002 Farm Bill (legislation), the programme expanded in 2014. It is based on the principle that increased development, purchase, and use of biobased products will reduce USA's reliance on petroleum and increase the use of renewable agricultural materials.

Certifications for Farmers

Not only companies or farms can be certified. There are also certification programmes for farmers. Through them, farmers can demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and commitment to best practices in agriculture.

Goyette (2023) lists the approved certifications in the United States (for instance, Certified Crop Adviser, Certified Professional Agronomist, Certified Livestock Manager). In the United Kingdom, Lantra − the UK’s “Sector Skills Council” for agriculture and farming − provides information about recognised certificates and details to budding or professional farmers.

These certifications and labels empower consumers to make informed choices while encouraging producers to adopt responsible and sustainable practices.

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