The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads global efforts to defeat hunger. FAO’s goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.
FAO and Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS)
FAO assists Member States and stakeholders in the use of voluntary standards and take actions at both international and regional level to promote the sustainability development. Activities in this regard include setting voluntary standards and guidelines, conducting international harmonization with partner organizations, undertaking projects and sharing lessons learned, and producing research analysis with a view to providing a better understanding of VSS.
AREAS OF FOCUS
Sustainability certification for fisheries is now a market reality, but a proliferation of certification schemes can generate confusion among producers, retailers, and consumers in recognizing credible arrangements, usually associated with higher costs. In 2013, a global platform was launched to promote improvement in seafood certification schemes, the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI), which recognized the individual nature of each scheme while ensuring confidence in the supply and promotion of certified seafood.
GSSI a partnership of
- seafood companies
- non-governmental organizations
- governmental and intergovernmental experts (including FAO)
The platform uses the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF), the FAO Guidelines for Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine and Inland Capture Fisheries and the FAO Technical Guidelines for Aquaculture Certification as references to a Global Benchmark Tool for seafood certification schemes.
With the growing, but still small, participation of developing countries, GSSI has become a purchasing requirement by many major retailers and brand-owners.
In 2017, GSSI was a recognized sustainable tool in the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration, launched during the Oceans Conference in New York, and in the sourcing guidelines for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
The use of FAO instruments in this Benchmark Tool helps to reduce the risk of a voluntary certification scheme becoming a trade barrier. One critical challenge for the system of voluntary certification, including the GSSI platform, is to be more inclusive, incorporating developing countries and small-scale and artisanal fishers.
Voluntary forest certification standards have been used since the 1990s, and as of 2017 more than 450 million hectares of forests were certified under just two globally recognized schemes:
- Forest Stewardship Council
- Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)
These schemes have similarly faced criticism for being beyond the reach of smallholders, which is why they have made efforts to develop smallholder-friendly mechanisms such as grouped certification.
Indonesia’s Ecolabeling Institute (LEI), for example, has a sustainable community-based forest management standard that to data has certified nearly 37,000 of community-managed forests.
The Indonesia Forest Certification Cooperation (IFCC) is working together with PEFC to develop a community forestry grouped standard, which would potentially further the accessibility of sustainability certification for the 500,000 hectares of community forests newly registered under the current administration.
Further Information on FAO's Website
The Codex Alimentarius is a set of standards on food safety to protect the health of the consumers and ensure fair trade practices in the food trade. The Codex text is developed and maintained by the Codex Alimentarius established by FAO and WHO in 1963.
Codex texts are voluntary and do not have binding effect on national food legislation. However, WTO Agreements on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) and on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) encouraged WTO members to harmonize national regulations with the international standards.
Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security
The objective of these Voluntary Guidelines is to provide practical guidance to States in their implementation of the progressive realization of the right to adequate food
Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT)
The purpose of these Voluntary Guidelines is to serve as a reference and to provide guidance to improve the governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests with the overarching goal of achieving food security for all and to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security.
The FAO Guidelines: Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems (SAFA)
The SAFA guidelines provide an overarching common sustainability language and framework for the food and agriculture sector. For the first time it is possible to assess the sustainability of farms and agriculture in a standardized, transparent and comparable manner.
Voluntary Guidelines For Sustainable Soil Management
These guidelines aim to be a reference providing general technical and policy recommendations on sustainable soil management (SSM) for a wide range of committed stakeholders.
Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respects Rights, Livelihoods and Resources
Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (the CFS-RAI Principles)
FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF)
Fisheries and the FAO Technical Guidelines for Aquaculture Certification
These guidelines provide guidance for the development, organization and implementation of credible aquaculture certification schemes.
The FAO Guidelines for Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine and Inland Capture
The Guidelines are of a voluntary nature. They are applicable to ecolabelling schemes that are designed to certify and promote labels for products from well-managed marine capture fisheries and focus on issues related to the sustainable use of fisheries resources.
The Global Bioenergy Partnership Sustainability Indicators of the FAO
The Partnership established the Task Force on Sustainability to promote the sustainable production and use of bioenergy. The Task Force has developed a science-based, technically sound, and highly relevant set of measurements and indicators that can inform policy-makers and other stakeholders in countries seeking to develop their bioenergy sector to help meet national goals of sustainable development. This report presents 24 indicators of sustainability regarding the production and use of modern bioenergy, broadly defined.
OECD/FAO, The OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains
The OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains (the Guidance) has been developed to help enterprises observe existing standards for responsible business conduct along agricultural supply chains.
Food-related Voluntary Sustainability Standards: A Strategy Guide for Policy Makers
Environmental And Social Standards, Certification And Labelling For Cash Crops
Harmonization and equivalence in organic agriculture
The multitude of standards, certification requirements and regulations are considered to be a major obstacle for continuous development of the organic sector, especially for producers in developing countries. IFOAM, FAO and UNCTAD joined forces to search for solutions to this problem and in 2003 they formed the ITF.
Two practical Tools were developed to streamline acceptance of products that are traded internationally.
- International Requirements for Organic Certification Bodies (IROCB), is an international reference norm that can be used by governments and private accreditation and certification bodies as a means of accepting certification of organic products outside of their own system.
- the Guide for Assessing Equivalence of Organic Standards and Technical Regulations (EquiTool) is a set of guidelines, which include both procedures and criteria that can be applied for deciding when a standard applicable in one region of the world is equivalent to a standard applicable in another region.
Linking People, Places and Products: A guide for promoting quality linked to geographical origin and sustainable geographical indications
FAO Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) programmes
GAP, as defined by FAO, are a “collection of principles to apply for on-farm production and postproduction processes, resulting in safe and healthy food and non-food agricultural products, while taking into account economic, social and environmental sustainability.”
Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI)
GSSI is a global platform launched in 2013 to promote improvement in seafood certification. FAO is one of the members in its Steering Board. The platform uses the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF), the FAO Guidelines for Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine and Inland Capture Fisheries and the FAO Technical Guidelines for Aquaculture Certification as references to a Global Benchmark Tool for seafood certification schemes.
FAO. 2014. Impact of international voluntary standards on smallholder market participation in developing countries: a review of literature
FAO. 2013. Voluntary Standards for Sustainable Food Systems: Challenges and Opportunities
FAO. 2011. Private standards and certification in fisheries and aquaculture
FAO. 2010. Private Food Safety Standards: Their Role in Food Safety Regulation and their Impact
FAO. 2009. The Impacts of Private Food Safety Standards on the Food Chain and on Public Standard-Setting Processes
Workshop proceedings Voluntary Standards for Sustainable Food Systems: Challenges and Opportunities.
Literature review on Impact of international voluntary standards on smallholder market participation in developing countries.