Author: Karin Heinze
The organic sector has been repeatedly rocked by fraud scandals (we have published several reports). Time and again, the focus is on Italy in particular. “Criminal minds are at work here and just a few culprits often bring the whole industry into disrepute,” says Frank Gerriets, Organic Services. The current system of certification, in compliance with international organic laws, the EU Organic Regulation and/or national association guidelines, is upheld by the work of the inspection organizations. This system is very complex and also bureaucratic, but the crucial comparison of volumes between production and trade and the verification of certificates in real time have so far not taken place. As well as the attractive prices of organics compared with conventional goods, this situation makes trading with organic products susceptible to fraud. Moreover, the international nature of the industry is another factor that makes it vulnerable: “The flows of goods became global long ago, and trading organics at the international level is continuing to grow. There are plenty of access points for fraudsters,” Gerriets explains. (Graph Organic Services / Intact: Registration of commodity flows in an online database make real-time checks possible)
(Video: In conversation with Karin Heinze, Frank Gerriets explains how the new integrity platform works)
Collaborating with the managing directors Franz Rauch and Thomas Lorber from the Austrian partner firm Intact Consult, Frank Gerriets has been working for years on the development of specialist software. Programmes like Ecert and Flowweb are applications to make, for example, the certification process, traceability via the product chain and the certificates themselves forgery-proof by means of QR Codes. Currently, a wide-ranging project on behalf of the Italian organic umbrella association FederBio, is being set up that, when it is launched at the beginning of 2014, will make a big contribution to preventing fraud. Behind the name “Integrity Platform” is a digital real-time tracking system for organic cereals.
(Picture: FederBio took the initiative. Scandals have severely damaged the reputation of the organic industry)
At an event held at Anuga, Roberto Pinton from the association AssoBio, a member of FederBio, that represents about 50 organic processing companies, had this to say about the FederBio Integrity Platform: “We can’t afford any more organic scandals – that’s the reason why we need a Bio Big Brother.” The FederBio Integrity Platform is an initiative of FederBio in cooperation with its members in manufacturing, trade and certification. “For the first time, an organic organization is taking the initiative in this form and to this degree to guarantee the quality assurance and the traceability of organic food,” says Gerriets. “The scandals of the past were the trigger.” Franz Rauch from Intact adds that comparable solutions in Austria and Switzerland, in which Intact is involved, prove that everywhere people see the need to take action to prevent fraud alongside the existing control and certification procedures, whose potential is being exploited to the full. (Picture: At the Anuga event, Roberto Pinton explains the urgent need to take action to prevent fraud in Italy)
Frank Gerriets explains the benefits of the internet-based Integrity Platform: “Up to now, everybody in trade, processing and certification has had to rely on the paper certificates that are put before them. This contrasts with what an Integrity Platform does – it presents via the internet and in real time the certification data of firms and raw materials along the value chain at home and abroad. In the case of the FederBio Integrity Platform, the data of the national and international cereals chain are brought together in one system, so that security checks can be carried out along the whole supply chain. (Picture: The Italian authorities are working on fraud detection)
When the relevant certification organizations carry out inspections in firms, they are today already collecting the necessary information. What is new, we are told, is the fact that via interfaces this information will be made directly available to the trade on the Integrity Platform. Thus: “Any change of certification status appears on the platform in real time. This means that paper certificates presented by international suppliers for themselves and consignments of goods can be checked against the certificate numbers or QR-Codes held on a central web platform to see if they are valid and up-to-date, irrespective of which certification organization has issued the certificates. The Integrity Platform is based on the Intact Audit and Certification Management System Ecert and Flowweb, an internet-based software system for tracking goods. (Picture: Forgery-proof uploading of data via a QR Code)
As Gerriets points out, the Integrity Platform is, of course, applicable not only to cereals but to all raw materials. There are already plans in Italy to extend its range, and other countries too are showing great interest in this new form of quality assurance and fraud prevention. Organic Services and Intact are in discussions in the USA and Europe. A global platform could be created. “Data protection is guaranteed,” says Gerriets. “Only the legally prescribed data are visible, and all sensitive data are deposited in a business portal that is password protected and accessible only to the people involved in the particular value chain. In the view of Frank Gerriets, it would be to Germany’s credit to take the initiative as soon as possible so that, as an important distribution hub for organic goods, it can demonstrate that, with the Integrity Platform, it is in the forefront in all aspects of security.