• QA 154
    Is the USDA changing the Internal Inspection System (ICS) arrangement for organic smallholder coffee?
    We hear the US Department of Agriculture is proposing changes in the inspection system for organic coffee growers that could cost small growers much money. Do you have any information on this?
    Asked by:
    Academia/Press - Madagascar

    This issue has arisen because the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently ruled that the use of an Internal Inspection System (ICS) as a proxy for mandatory on-site inspections of each production unit (i.e. smallholder plot) by the certifying agent is not permitted.

    As explained in Q&A 047 in the Q&A Archive, the Internal Inspection System arrangement was developed to reduce costs by allowing accredited grower organizations to perform the 100% inspection demanded by authorities in consuming countries. The system has worked well and has been instrumental in allowing many more smallholders to enter organic production than would otherwise have been the case. Its continued acceptance is therefore of great importance!

    Unfortunately, some evidence of non-compliance has come to light that has caused the USDA to make this ruling and to propose that acceptance of the ICS arrangement be withdrawn. Reverting to 100% external inspections would increase costs to a level that many smallholders would not be able to afford. This prospect has caused considerable agitation in the organic coffee world and is currently the subject of discussion between the USDA, various coffee associations and other interest groups.

    Continued acceptance of the ICS arrangement is of great importance to small growers of organic coffee worldwide. However, some revision or strengthening is perhaps necessary to minimize the risk of non-compliance. This would no doubt still raise costs but hopefully not unbearably so… Meanwhile smallholder organizations always have the option of joining forces, for example by sharing in the cost of inspection visits. *

    To summarize…

    The USDA's continued acceptance of the ICS arrangement is indeed under discussion. Suppliers of organic coffee to the United States are therefore advised to monitor further developments very carefully indeed.

    * To note here that inspectors are not permitted to pass on confidential information obtained from one set of growers to another, i.e. there is nothing wrong in having the same inspector visit a number of groups or cooperatives during a single trip.

    Posted 06 June 2007

    Related chapter(s):
    Related Q & A:
    Q&A 036, 047