cows in field

An Interview with Richard Mathews

Architect of the Pasture Rule

Added September 6, 2010.

Included in the September NODPA News is an in-depth interview with Richard Mathews, who will be joining us at the October NODPA Field Days. Information covered in the interview spans the history of the creation of the Pasture Rule, equivalency agreements, suggested steps to improve the performance level of accredited certifiers and more. Below is a portion of the interview, subscribe to the NODPA News (electronic or hard copy) to read it in it’s entirety.

Q. Certifiers are the first line of enforcement and interpretation of the regulations. What suggestions do you have for improving their performance?

A: The NOP program is only as good as the quality of the certifying agents and the inspectors they employ or contract with. Accordingly, I advocate for:

  1. Close NOP scrutiny of ACA qualifications and performance. Emphasis needs to be on personnel charged with inspecting operations, reviewing documents, and making certification decisions.
  2. Mandatory NOP training, with written examinations, for inspectors, document reviewers, certification decision makers; and their supervisors.
  3. Mandatory NOP licensing of inspectors.

Q: You recommend close scrutiny of ACA qualifications and performance; how would this be done? Are you suggesting that some certifiers will be restricted on whose operations they can certify?

A: In the past the Program has tied similar violations by certified operations back to a specific certifying agent. They then inspected the certifying agent targeting its qualifications and performance in the area of concern. I’m suggesting rather than wait for an obvious pattern to present itself, that the Accreditation and International Activities Division actively look for the pattern. The Division should administer a program that reviews data from accreditation audits, compliance cases, appeals, and complaints. Data from any of the sources could trigger an inspection. Further, I suggest the Division work closely with the Audit Review and Compliance Branch providing them with specific qualification and performance areas of concern for review during accreditation audits. Finally, the Division should include a program of regular on-site qualification and performance spot checks of randomly selected certifying agents. A spot inspection would be considered a compliance activity not billable to the certifying agent.

In answer to your second question, absolutely. If for example, a certifying agent is not qualified to handle the certification of a juice processing plant, then they should not be accredited to do so.

Q: You did a lot of work on enforcement and accountability; what were your major challenges and frustrations?

A: Funding! In its formative years the program never had enough funds. As a result the program provided limited enforcement training to certifying agents. This in turn contributed to a poor job of enforcement by certifying agents in general. Without the funds to hire compliance officers, the NOP was reliant on services provided by AMS compliance. The NOP had to pay for those services so we got what we could pay for, which wasn’t a lot. The Office of General Counsel was also a frequent sore spot due to their demands for what constituted a pursuable case. And pursuable cases were often limited by the quality of certifying agent case work; which takes us back to the lack of certifier training. It is this viscous circle which has tied the NOP Appeals staff in knots to the point that they are years behind in the resolution of appeals.