Organic Exports and COVID-19: 16 April 2020 update (2020-03)
Date of issue: 16 April 2020
Date of effect: Until further notice
Reference Number: MAA 2020-03
Approved certifying organisations and organic and bio-dynamic operators
The Organic Exports Program (the program) in the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment continues to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 on Australian organic exports, including impacts on approved certifying organisations (certifiers) and organic operators (operators). The following notice is given on the regulatory activities of the program.
This notice should be read in conjunction with other commodity-specific export advice or notice, as issued by the relevant export commodity regulatory program. Operators and exporters should consult the relevant export commodity regulatory program for commodity-specific advice.
The program recognises that the usual business operations of approved certifiers, certifiers’ inspectors/auditors, and operators may not be possible at this time.
Nevertheless, the requirements of the organic export legal and policy framework continue to apply—they have not changed. Consistent application of, and compliance with, the framework will provide the necessary assurance that exported organic products meet the export requirements of the Australian Government and importing requirements of trading partners. Unless specifically advised, importing country requirements remain in place and must be met prior to export. Please contact the program where clarification is required.
Organic Produce Certificate
Certifiers and operators should be aware that the mandatory requirement remains for an Organic Produce Certificate (OPC) to accompany all exports of organic products from Australia, and that the OPC is issued prior to departure from Australia.
As a temporary measure, certifiers can use electronic signatures for OPCs. Certifiers’ monthly OPC reports to the department must note the relevant OPC/consignment where this is used.
Operators experiencing difficulties in preparing this export certification should contact their certifier as soon as practicable. Certifiers experiencing difficulties should consult the program.
Annual Audit of Operators:
Operators continuing to produce, process, prepare, pack and/or store product to the export standard must continue to be subject to an annual audit. Operators must regard a scheduled audit as verification of the effectiveness of operators’ ability to continue to meet exporting and importing country requirements during this period of rapid change. Certifiers’ inspectors (auditors) are performing a regulatory function conducted on the department’s behalf by an approved entity.
Continuation of on-site audits
On-site audits may continue where it is still possible for the auditors to access premises. In these instances, auditors’ compliance with the health and safety requirements at operations will continue, including where reasonably practical, with any newly introduced or enhanced procedures. Similarly, it is expected that all auditors, certifiers’ staff and operators will continue to comply with existing regulatory requirements for health and hygiene and will not present for work if they are sick, have a communicable disease, or are otherwise feeling unwell.
Alternative audit arrangements
Where on-site audit is not possible, including where border restrictions prevent auditors’ site access, certifiers may determine alternative audit arrangements, such as audits where paperwork is audited remotely, and which may be followed by teleconference and/or videoconferencing. In these instances, the scope of the audit will be adjusted accordingly. Where a site visit is not possible, this must be documented as part of the audit and any remaining components completed when restrictions have been relaxed.
Operators informed that their scheduled audit will be undertaken remotely, are reminded that they are under the same obligation to provide assistance and all requested documentation within timeframes specified by the auditor as would be for an on-site audit. A failure to assist or provide access could impact your ability to continue be certified.
A decision by a certifier to rely on an audit conducted remotely will be determined based on the risk of an operator. A risk assessment will consider the operator’s compliance history, the nature of the operations, observations and corrective action requests from previous audits, and any instance where an importing country has reported on the operator and/or its product (for example, an irregularity report). Operations considered high risk may be subject to additional measures.
Unannounced audits of operators
Unannounced audits of operators by certifiers will continue, noting that unannounced audits are a requirement of some importing countries. The nature of the audit will be determined by the certifier and documented accordingly.
Applications and audits of new operators
It will remain the decision of each certifier to determine whether applications from new operators will be accepted and/or audits scheduled at this time. Any new applications will be assessed based on the risk of the operator and organic product/s.
Ceasing or withdrawing from certification
Some operators may decide to withdraw their operations from certification for a period, or permanently withdraw their operations from certification. An operator’s decision should be communicated as soon as practicable to their certifier to ensure operators understand the ramifications and the requirements that apply should, or when, the operations recommence.
Annual audit of certifiers
Annual audits of certifiers remain mandatory and will be scheduled as usual. The program will shortly consult with certifiers about the nature of these audits and their timing, ensuring that legislative requirements for annual audits are met, albeit in an amended format.
Applications to become an Approved Certifying Organisation
Until further notice, the program will not be considering new applications to become an approved certifying organisation. This decision will be reviewed in line with any relaxing of the various jurisdictional restrictions and the availability of departmental staff.
Departmental and program operations
The department has active business continuity and contingency plans in place and will activate these as circumstances require. These plans aim to ensure that export certification can continue, with support for all critical functions.
The program will continue to assist with detained exported consignments where the detention relates to the organic claim made about the product. The program will also continue to respond to and address issues of non-compliance, including where raised by an overseas authority.
Industry can expect some delays in the responsiveness of departmental staff during this time. This will include our ability to respond to emails and action information requests. All enquiries should be sent to OrganicExports@awe.gov.au.
Further information regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on the operations of the department can be found on the department’s COVID-19 website.
Disclaimer: This information is current at the time of publication, is intended for use as guidance only and should not be taken as definitive or exhaustive. The Australian Government endeavours to keep information current and accurate, however, it may be subject to change without notice. Exporters are encouraged to verify details with their importers prior to undertaking production/exports. The Commonwealth will not accept liability for any loss resulting from reliance on information contained in this notice. This is a controlled document. Any document appearing in paper form is not controlled and should be checked against industry advice notices published on the website of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (www.awe.gov.au).