Auditors I’ve met in the past usually come clad in suits, and spend most of their lives tediously sorting through papers in locked off areas of offices to which one only goes when one’s manager wants to have a “word”. Today’s visit was luckily different—at least from a fashion point of view. As someone who regularly audits agricultural processing operations like dairies, she seemed happy that she didn’t have to come to this audit wearing her rubber boots, and could instead arrive in her every day comfort-footwear, with not a suit in site. She also happened to be a coffee business owner and roaster herself, which, if anything else, just made me feel like we’d be speaking the same language for the day. Ready to go, our audit started with an inaugural espresso before we took a seat and dug in to the pages of our application.
What is certified organic coffee anyway? Here it is…in plain words: Starting with the grower, coffee is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Then, after coffee is grown and harvested, certified organic handling standards are met throughout the supply chain to ensure that when coffees arrive at the coffee roasters’ doors, the integrity of the organic quality is maintained. Why then, wouldn’t that be considered certified organic coffee, you might ask? Good question!
If you can imagine a quarterback tossing a perfect spiral throw to the receiver, who then runs it 60 yards toward the end zone…but instead of crossing the line for the touchdown, he stops just a yard short, sits down, and calls “close enough” a “touchdown”. Well, it’s not a touchdown. And at a yard short, it’s not certified organic either.
The coffee roaster – the one responsible for the final yard before reaching you, the customer – must also become a certified organic processor for the coffee to be sold as USDA Certified Organic on the label. It’s a commitment to the organic product, by which the roaster ensures that handling, roasting, and packaging methods are performed per certified organic processing standards.
All of this is for us, the consumer. Can you believe it? The USDA actually cares about us and the validity of the organic product we might choose to purchase. Believe it or not, the use of the term organic is still highly abused within many industries, including the coffee industry. Strict labeling requirements define who, how, & where you can actually use the term “organic”. It seems like it’s a confusing thing to understand, but the good news is that at the consumer level, we don’t need to know all these rules. We can just look for that little round “USDA Organic” logo on the front packaging of a product claiming organic, and know that this is actually what it says it is. The entire supply chain, including the final processor, is certified. It’s just that easy. Thank you great regulators of the world. We like pictures.
So finally, after hours of scouring every one of our policies, practices, forms, and processes (probably topped only by the amount of paper that Brad and Angelina had to file to adopt their soccer team of kids) our auditor left. We’ll had to patiently wait for what we hope to be the good news. And good news it was. We’ve officially been granted our organic processors certification, and are now a certified organic coffee roaster. Now that……..that is a touchdown.