Evira carried out audits of all the country’s farms and producers of organic food stuffs at least once a year, to ensure they are in compliance with regulations. The controls are seen as important to retain consumers' trust in organic products and ensure businesses are operating in a level playing field, as organic is a ‘credence quality’ – that is, there is no way consumers can tell the difference between organic and conventional produce just by looking at, smelling or tasting it.
Fees for annual inspections are paid by the farm or business being inspected according to size.
It reports that breaches of the regulations decreased compared to 2009, and they were seldom related to products. In the few cases where prohibited inputs were used, the controls managed to prevent products from reaching the market.
The agency says “the greatest deficiencies concerned parallel cultivation, for which a permit is required, but the permit is not always applied for”.
Marketing bans were issued to three food operators, but they have not been identified by Evira. Marketing bans for animal production “were caused mainly by issues with the origin of the animals and the requirements for outdoor exercise yards”.
In plant production, they related to the use of prohibited fertilisers or plant protection products on organic farms was not observed.
Operators found to be in breach are not subject to fines, but their products do lose their organic status. They may still be marketed as non-organic, however.
“In such a case, the financial loss would be the difference in price between a regular and an organically produced product,” says Evira. In general, however, a first, minor breach does not result in a marketing ban, but in a reminder.
“If the issue is not rectified after the reminder, the product will lose its organic status.”
Evira has also provided some commentary on its own inspection procedures and decision-making processes. It says that 81 per cent of decisions were made by the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres) within 60 days of the production controls, and 95 per cent were made by Evira in the same time frame.
“Most of the controls were carried out during the summer, which means that decision-making is concentrated to a short period of time,” Evira said.
“In the future, more controls will be carried out outside the summer period.”
Organic production covers some 7.5 per cent of Finland’s agricultural area, and just over 6 per cent of farms are certified as organic.