How Organic Certification of Japanese Tea Works – JAS, USDA, and EU Certification
The Japanese are known to take care of their health by eating and drinking what is healthy for them, taking into account the quality and freshness of their food. Around the 1960s, many in Japan raised food safety concerns about pollution-related illnesses because of the boost of industrialization in Japan. They would like to know how fresh their agricultural products being consumed are. Because of this, the Japanese decided to buy directly from farmers for food consumption. From direct buying, organic products became commercialized due to its popularity that even restaurants started to buy this type of product and so, the need to set up a standard to qualify organic food was raised since there were issues of misrepresentation of products being organic and “chemical-free”. This raised concern to know more information about each consumable product out in the market.
CONSCIOUSNESS OF ORGANIC PRODUCT: JAPAN AGRICULTURAL STANDARD
It was in 1950 when Japan started labeling agricultural and forestry products. Later on, labeling on food products was also developed around the 1970s. The Japan Agricultural Standard or JAS of the Japanese government is a certification and labeling system that provides quality standards for the production of food, beverages excluding alcohol, and forestry products as early as the year 1999 but the mandatory labeling on food products happened only in the year 2001.
JAS Certification is issued by a third-party organization called registered overseas certifying bodies recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries or MAFF, to the producers, manufacturers, distributors, or importers of such in accordance with the Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organically Produced Foods. JAS logo is stamped on the products that pass the JAS quality standard, issued to registered business entities that have been certified by the registered certifying bodies to verify that organic foods are produced in compliance with JAS. This sets other products apart to visibly differ those products that are organically produced and those that were produced through the chemical processes. The JAS also prohibits to sell agricultural products and processed foods as “Organic foods” with names such as “有機”, “Organic”, etc. without the Organic JAS logo.
For organic plants and organic processed foods of plant origin, JAS started only in 2000, then eventually extended to include livestock products such as animals, eggs, and processed animal products such as cheese, to provide principles of organic production, criteria for production methods, and a system of labeling.
The organic plant or food of plant origin producers are prohibited to use agricultural chemicals and fertilizers, request the non-use of recombinant DNA technology, and list the criteria for exercising the productivity of the soil and the cultivation method to minimize load to the environment, among others. As long as the product is made up of at least 95% organic, then it would already be approved with the Organic JAS logo.
Even the production method and conditions of the field for products are being certified by JAS yearly, regardless of the number of crops produced in a field upon inspection by the registered certifying body, soil fertility, as well as the use of organically produced seeds and seedlings for seed reproductive plants and vegetative reproductive plants and non-use of recombinant DNA technology.
Organic plant products are labelled differently, such as “organic plant”, “organically grown plant”, “organic farming”, and “organic”, both written in Japanese and English.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
In the United States, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, provides the process for a producer to receive authorization to use the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s “USDA Organic” seal on its products.
The USDA, which is the counterpart of the JAS in the United States, ensures food safety for consumers and guarantees that organic products, including matcha green tea powder, are grown and have been processed “according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality xxx pest and weed control, and the use of additives.” Before, the certification must be coming from an accredited third-party agent as to the product being organic. However, due to inconsistencies with the qualification standards, a nationalized system was finalized in 2002 and the USDA became the national certifying agent as to the development and maintenance of an “organic production plan”, adherence to rigorous requirements regarding land management and protection, use of seed and planting stock material, use of pest controls, and adherence to a “National List” of approved and prohibited substances to be used in connection with the growing process, among others. However, unlike JAS that would authorize the use of the JAS logo as long as the product is 95% organic, the USDA could seal “made with organic” labels or 100% organic labels. On the other hand, products with at least 70% organic ingredients may put the label “made with organic ingredients” or “contains organic ingredients” but may not display the USDA seal.
JAS AND USDA’S MUTUAL CERTIFICATION AGREEMENT CERTIFIES PRODUCTS OF BOTH COUNTRIES AS ORGANIC
Japan’s JAS Law, particularly Article 12 of such regards the systems of Japan and other countries as equivalent and treats the organic certified products of other countries like those of Japan. The products certified as organic of the recognized countries by the registered certifying body as having an equivalent quality grade as that of Japan, will be distributed in Japan with organic JAS logo. Starting June 1, 2014, certified organic products, including organic plant, including fungi, and plant-based processed products of U.S. or Japanese origin, can be sold as organic between the U.S. and Japan in accordance with the US-Japan Equivalency Agreement.
THE EUROPEAN ORGANIC STANDARD
The European Union (EU) also set up standards based on the law, such as instituting a rule regarding organic produce in 1991. Ireland, Italy, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Austria, Netherlands, Cyprus, Greece, Croatia, Sweden, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Finland, France, Bulgaria, Belgium, Poland, Portugal, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Luxembourg are the member states of the EU.
Before the organic logo in EU was only optional but starting July 2010, the EU issued a new mandatory logo for organic food, with an indication of the origin of the raw materials: “EU Agriculture”, “non-EU Agriculture” or “EU/non-EU Agriculture” or could provide the country if origin if all materials that were used came from a single country.
For its mutual agreement with Japan, EU’s Organic Certification System is regarded as Equivalent to the Organic JAS System as of January 2015. Upon importation in Japan of these organic European certified products, the importers recognized by the by registered certifying body could attach the JAS logo on it. However, starting April 1, 2013, only the organic ingredients which conform to JAS standards and are produced in Japan could be used for organic processed foods and are exported from Japan to EU be labeled as “organic”. Also, previously, only the certification which is issued by governmental organization of exporting country could be acceptable. Also, when before, only certificates from the government authority are accepted by the JAS, starting on April 1, 2013, the certifications which are also issued by control bodies of EU which the MAFF appointed as quasi-governmental organization are also acceptable.
Since Japan recognized the EU standard of certification for its plant products through the Bio EU certification (Regulation (EC) No. 834/07), inspection and certification of organic products is carried out by in Japan itself since the importation of organic products are in place with Japan as having the same standards and control measures equivalent to those in place in the EU.
On the other hand, for other countries not recognized as having an equivalent standard by EU, there is a need for organic products to be certified by competent bodies recognized by the European government to allow selling of such in Europe through compliance with the EU regulation on climate and environment protection, conservation of soil fertility, preservation of biodiversity, respect of natural cycles and animal welfare, absence of the use of chemical and synthetic products, absence of GMO and transparent labeling for consumers. The producers of the products will go annual certification process subject to renewal upon application with a certified competent body by the EU subject to the review of the said application. Upon documentary assessment, there will be an on-site inspection to see if the producer or manufacturer/exporter complies with the EU regulation. Upon final review, the certified competent body will decide if the producer/manufacturer/exporter will be given a master certificate and there will be a surveillance of the producer or manufacturer/exporter’s operations.
In order to export organic products to the EU, an organic master certificate is not sufficient. A “certificate of inspection” (COI) is still needed, issued by the certification body of the exporter upon request by the importer, the 1st consignee in the EU or the exporter, through the electronic Trade Control Expert System, (TRACES), a software established by the European Commission. Without the COI, importation may be refused entry in the EU’s custom.
Only multi-ingredient products that contain at least 95% organic certified agricultural ingredients, excluding water, salt, additives and natural flavorings, can be certified as EU organic.
Organic Certification FAQ
Q1: What is organic certification?
Organic certification is being issued to producers of organic agricultural products and organic food items, verifying that the producer, which is usually a farm or a handling facility, complies with the country’s organic regulations and is allowed to sell, label, and represent products as organic, assuring good quality product and organic practices. It comforts the consumers that they are buying a product free of toxic chemicals and the company of such product supports farming methods that benefit the environment.
Q2: Why is there a need to be certified as organic?
It has been accepted globally that organic agricultural practices are aimed in achieving a sustainable, ecologically sensitive farming procedure for the biodiversity of a region. Thus, to sustain an ecofriendly environment while attaining healthy farming produce, organic certification of food products is being practiced in many countries.
Q3: Who certifies a farm or a handling facility as being ‘organic’ in the United States?
A third-party entity authorized and accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the authority to offer this certification, in compliance with the standards mentioned in the Organic Foods Production Act, taking into account the quality of soil and water, pest control, and rules for food additives, among other.
Q4: What is the USDA?
The USDA is a federal department of the United States responsible for handling and executing policies related to farming, agriculture, forestry, and food, such as the promotion of agricultural trade and production, policies related to food safety, and safeguard natural resources. The USDA is the one responsible for the organic certification program in the United States that defines how an agricultural product must be grown and processed if they are to be labeled organic.
Q5: What does it mean to be organic according to the USDA standard?
According to the USDA, organic food is that which is “produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.”
Q6: I am importing an organic product from Japan to the United States, should I get a USDA certification for such imported product?
Imported products must be USDA certified and can be done in one of two ways to be sold as organic in the United States. First, products can be certified to the USDA organic regulations through the traditional certification process done by accredited third-party certifiers and secondly, the United States currently accepts most products certified to the Japanese organic standards but must meet all general or commodity-specific import and export requirements, such as labeling, import codes, grading and health inspection.
Please see Q9 below for more info.
Q7: What is USDA certified organic green tea?
A USDA organic certification guarantees that the entire process of producing green tea leaves or powder, from farming to consumer marketing, is in accordance with the USDA’s prescribed standards, ensuring that one consumes a good quality, organic product.
Q8: When importing organic green tea from Japan to the United States, is there any process I need to go through as an importer?
Before an organic green tea to be imported from Japan can be labeled ‘organic’ in the United States, a third-party USDA-authorized and accredited certifying agent inspects the farm in Japan where the organic green tea is grown to make sure the farm or the handling facility is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.
Q9: I am a café owner. Do I need to be USDA certified too?
In general, a café owner does not need to be USDA certified unless it is an organic farm and café. According to the USDA, only those Most farms and businesses that grow, handle, or process organic products must be certified, including:
- Farms that sell more than $5,000 in organic products per year (gross sales). Handlers that sell more than $5,000 of organic processed food, including handlers that place bulk products into smaller packages or that repackage/relabel products.
- Processors that sell more than $5,000 of organic processed products, unless all products contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients or only identify the organic ingredients in the ingredient statement.
- Vendors that handle (e.g. package) and sell products online (but not in stores) or otherwise deliver organic products.
Any product claiming that it or its ingredients are organic also needs to be certified. However, if you may want to do so, you could voluntarily apply for a USDA certification.
Q10: If organic green tea is certified as JAS Organic in Japan, can I label the product as USDA Organic?
As of January 1, 2014, far as JAS certified organic green tea leaf or powder is a concern, the United States has an organic equivalency arrangement with Japan where certified organic products from both countries may sell their products as organic in Japan and the United States as long as the terms of the agreement are met.
Q11: What is the qualification for an organic green tea to be USDA certified?
Organic green tea from Japan can only display the USDA seals if they meet USDA organic certification standards. A product may be labeled “100 Percent Organic” if all ingredients are certified organic, or “Organic” if the product contains at least 95 percent certified organic ingredients. Products labeled as “Made with Organic Ingredients” must contain 70 to 94 percent organic ingredients and need not display the USDA organic seal. Any product with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may only use the word ‘organic’ within its ingredients list to pinpoint the ingredients that are organic.
Q12: What kind of chemicals are considered non-approval for being certified as organic by the USDA?
According to the USDA, organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. The Federal Regulations released a list of non-synthetic substances that may not be used in organic crop production, such as:
- Ash from manure burning
- arsenic, rotenone
- sodium fluoaluminate (mined)
- strychnine, tobacco dust (nicotine sulfate)
- lead salts
- Calcium chloride
- brine process is natural and prohibited for use except as a foliar spray to treat a physiological disorder associated with calcium uptake.
- Potassium chloride is also prohibited unless derived from a mined source and applied in a manner that minimizes chloride accumulation in the soil.
- Sodium nitrate is also prohibited unless use is restricted to no more than 20% of the crop’s total nitrogen requirement.
Q13: Who certifies a farm or a handling facility as being ‘organic’ in the European Union?
It is the European Commission, through the EU-Eco-regulation 1992 that facilitates the certification of organic products in and entering the European Countries. However, there are also private institutions that are accredited to issue certification such as the Demeter International, Bio Suisse, and Global Organic Textile Standard.
Q14: If green tea is certified as JAS Organic in Japan, can I label the product as EU Organic?
From April 1, 2013, Only the ingredients which are produced in Japan could be used for organic processed foods which conform to JAS for organic foods, and are exported from Japan to EU labeled as “organic”.
Q15: When importing organic green tea from Japan to the European Union, is there any process I need to go through as an importer?
For an imported green tea from Japan to be sold as organic in the European Union, it must comply with the equivalent standards as EU produced goods. Thus, there are procedures that all importers have to follow when they wish to market an organic green tea as organic also in the EU. So, for organic green tea that originates in Japan, inspection and certification of such is carried out by the national authorities of Japan since arrangements for the imports of organic products are in place with some countries like Japan, which are referred to as ‘equivalent’ countries, as their standards and control measures have been assessed as equivalent to those in place in the EU.
Importers can have their organic products certified for importation into the EU by independent third-party, private control bodies accredited by the European Commission and the products must be accompanied by a certificate of inspection, which is checked upon entry into the EU. Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 sets out the rules on organic production and labeling of organic products. Article 28(1) thereof states that “any operator who xxx stores xxx or who places such products on the market shall, prior to placing on the market of any products as organic xxx: (a) notify his activity to the competent authorities of the Member State where the activity is carried out;(b) submit his undertaking to the control system xxx.” On the other hand, Regulation (EC) No 1235/2008 contains detailed rules concerning imports of organic products from other countries.
Q16: What would be the qualification of the EU in certifying the imported green tea from Japan as organic?
The EU Commission is tracking, more importantly, the use of pesticides that are permitted in tea cultivation, setting maximum levels on the amount of pesticides allowed on imported foods including tea, which is called the Maximum Residue Level or MRL but Germany for example, may have stricter requirements on MRLs. The residues that are most commonly found in tea are dicofol, ethion, quinalphos, hexaconazole, fenpropathrin, fenvalerate and propargite.
Q17: As a cafe owner or a store owner in the USA carrying JAS Certified product, do we need to have our business inspected yearly to make sure it meets certain control points (sanitation, pest control, supplier certification, etc)? Does the JAS require these yearly inspections as well?
You may be referring to the following: “To maintain organic certification, your certified organic farm or business will go through an annual review and inspection process” (via USDA).
As a cafe owner or store owner, this does not fall under this application as the inspection process for certifying the tea is done in Japan and their inspection process ensures JAS organic certificate quality. Unless your organization is also certifying products as organic, for example, if your operation also includes a farm and certifying x,y,z products as organic, then the inspection process does not apply to you and inspectors would not be inspecting your location.
If your restaurant or cafe uses organic tea as ingredients in the USA, according to National Organic Program (NOP) you are excluded from inspection; however, the cafe can voluntarily obtain USDA Organic Certification.
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