Organic Articles: Organic Equivalence From Start to Finnish

The Organic Consultancy

Organic Equivalence From Start to Finnish

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the March 2003 edition of Organic Business.

I’m writing this on flight AY835 en route to Heathrow after two very stimulating days in Helsinki working with the team at Organic Equivalency Technologies (OET). The global rise of Nokia seems to have given the Finns a taste for innovative, technology-based projects such as OET. The founders of OET, Erkki Poytaniemi and Sampsa Heinonen, are ambitiously tackling a problem that has bedevilled international organic trade for many years – namely how to identify the detailed differences between different sets of organic standards.

Until I carried out some work for Defra recently on the Organic Action Plan I did not realise just how difficult it is to find out the exact details of how organic standards are implemented outside the UK. For example, since the organic regulation 2092/91 is EU-wide surely this creates a level playing field across the Member States ? No such luck – confounding factors here include derogations from 2092/91, the influence of private organic standards and the effects of non-organic national legislation.

OET plan to combat such complexity by setting up a networked system which will allow ready comparison of any one set of organic standards with any other set of organic standards, including those from IFOAM, Japan and the USA. This has been tried before without success, notably by Trade Organex (RIP). What makes OET think they can succeed is that Sampsa has cleverly transferred the technique of Content Analysis, widely used in Social Science, to organic food legislation and standards. Complex regulations are broken down to their simplest constituent parts and entered onto a specially-designed template. Using the same template for all organic regulations facilitates rapid and consistent comparison of different organic standards.

Once OET have the principal organic standards entered onto their system they can go further, advising companies which ingredients to use so that finished products qualify for a specific certification. If you have ever grappled with equivalence issues as they apply to organic ingredients you will appreciate the benefit of resolving such issues easily and quickly at the formulation stage, rather than much later when your final recipe is submitted to the certifying body for approval.

OET still have a lot of work to do here but they have made an impressive start, as you can see from visiting www.organicequivalency.com. Many people would like to see one single international organic standard that applies to all organic food everywhere in the world. Whilst we are waiting for that particular pig to fly, OET can help us to understand the differences in our existing organic standards.