The Critical Role of Professional Associations in Organic Certification

    Regulation increasingly depends on a dizzying array of organizations and entities. Instead of reflecting a simple two-party "regulator" and "regulatee" structure, many regulatory arrangements rely on a variety of intermediaries from both within and outside of government to perform essential program functions. In a paper published in Regulation & Governance, Nadia Mahallati and I examine the critical role that professional associations play in U.S. organic certification. Our study focuses on two professional associations: the Accredited Certifiers Association (ACA) and the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA). To guide the examination, we draw on public management literature regarding professional association functions in public service settings to develop expectations regarding likely functions performed by the ACA and IOIA to coordinate the activity of organic certifiers and inspectors.

    By triangulating several data sources, including interviews, surveys, and a review of existing documentation, we conclude that the ACA and IOIA fulfill vital functions in support of organic certification fidelity. Both associations provide important information and training to organic certifier and inspector members. The ACA also helps foster a shared understanding and consistent interpretation of organic regulations, and serves as a collective representation body to the USDA - creating a "feedback" channel to communicate lessons learned in the application of USDA regulations. For organic food consumers the paper highlights the central role of the ACA and IOIA in supporting organic integrity. For regulatory scholars the paper draws attention to professional associations as an example of "coordinating intermediaries," and argues that accounting for the role of such entities leads to a more comprehensive understanding of regulatory processes and outcomes.

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