Guide

Importing organic produce

Certificate of Inspection and other import documents for organic produce

All organic produce imported into the UK must be accompanied by the correct documentation to allow the port authority to verify your shipment and for it to be allowed into free circulation.

Certificate of Inspection

The key regulation when importing organic products into the UK from countries outside the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area requires that a Certificate of Inspection (CoI) be produced by the inspection body in the third country from which your imported goods originate. You should then present the CoI to the relevant authority in the EU. In the UK this body would usually be the port health authority (PHA) or local authority (LA) at the port of arrival. It can also be a place other than where a consignment first enters EU territory and from which you seek release for free circulation in the Community.

If the PHA confirms its validity, the CoI will be endorsed in box 17 before the goods can go to customs for final clearance to move into free circulation.

There is a charge of £45 for checking and endorsement of the CoI.

If products are being imported by airfreight, a photocopy of the CoI is permitted for temporary endorsement (in the UK only). In these cases the original must be presented to the port within a week.

CoI for goods from equivalence countries

Read more about applying for organic import authorisation. If appropriate the CoI will be endorsed before the goods go to customs for final clearance to move into free circulation.

The original CoI must be presented and endorsed in box 17 by the PHA or LA before organic goods will be permitted to move to customs clearance. If products are being imported by airfreight, a photocopy of the certificate is permitted for temporary endorsement (in the UK only). In these cases the original must be presented to the port within a week.

There is also a requirement that importers pre-notify the PHA of the arrival of goods. Each port has its own form of pre-notification. Find a list of port contact details.

Extract of CoI

The CoI is the general document that must be made available to the PHA or LA. However, if you intend to split a larger consignment into smaller units, you must ensure that your certificate has been verified and endorsed beforehand. When your consignment is split, the divided shipments should be accompanied by an Extract of the Certificate of Inspection, as this will allow customs clearance. All verification and endorsement will be carried out by the PHA/LA.

Problems with CoI

When your consignment arrives at the PHA the CoI, if presented, will be inspected. If this inspection fails, your goods won't be allowed into free circulation and your CoI won't be stamped. There are a number of reasons why this might happen:

  • the original CoI not being present when the consignment arrives
  • the CoI isn't written in English
  • the CoI hasn't been fully completed
  • the CoI hasn't been signed and stamped in Box 15
  • uncertified amendments have been made to the CoI
  • the information on the CoI doesn't match the information on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra's) organic imports database
  • the CoI has been completed by the wrong certifying body - for products from approved status countries - or has the wrong inspection body mentioned

It's likely that for very minor errors on the CoI (eg a small spelling error), matters can be resolved by the PHA making an amendment. The PHA may wish to discuss these cases with Defra's officials. In the event that minor corrections are made, they must be clearly endorsed with a PHA stamp and an authorised signature.

If your CoI can't be endorsed for whatever reason, you can still move your goods into free circulation as long as you remove all indication that they're organic. If repackaging is needed, you may be able to get permission to move your consignment to suitable premises for this process to be carried out. These premises will still be under customs control.

Problems with consignments

In some circumstances concerns may be raised by Port Health Officers about the consignment itself and not necessarily about the documentation. Often, the quantities in the consignment don't match those stated on the CoI. If the quantities of the consignment are greater than those stated on your documentation, the consignment will be held.

On the other hand, if the quantities in your consignment are lower than stated on your documentation, the PHA may endorse the CoI with the appropriate alteration.

If the problems with your consignment can't be resolved, a Movement Control Order will be issued and your consignment will be marked to show that it's under the control order. The notice will give details of the steps that have to be taken to bring your consignment to a state whereby your certificate can be endorsed, allowing your goods to proceed to customs clearance. You have the right to appeal any Movement Control Order. This should be directed to the official at the PHA you're using.