In the first installment, we established the differences between first, second, and third party certification. For this article, we will delve deeper into third party certification by exploring the difference between certification and accreditation.
The terms certification and accreditation are often used interchangeably, though they have very different meanings. As certification has become the buzz word in the cannabis industry, it is important to understand these distinctions.
Certification is a third party attestation related to products, processes, systems or persons; and is applicable to all objects of conformity assessment except for conformity assessment bodies themselves, to which accreditation is applicable. (ISO/IEC 17000, clause 5.5)
Accreditation is a third-party attestation related to Certification Bodies conveying formal demonstration of its competence to carry out specific conformity assessment tasks and operates according to international standards. (ISO/IEC 17000, clause 5.2)
- Certification is written assurance from an independent third-party, that has determined and declared a company’s systems, products, or services meet specific standards or requirements. The value of certification is the level of confidence and trust given to the certified company by an independent, third-party.
- Accreditation is the formal recognition by an authoritative body that a certification body is competent to provide certification services. The value of accreditation is the confidence and trust given to the certification body by an independent third-party.
Certification = Assurance in Companies Accreditation = Assurance in Certification Bodies
Accreditation demonstrates that a certification body is able to produce consistent, reliable and impartial inspections. Accreditation also assures that certification bodies have adequate technical competence as it relates to inspection methods, staff qualifications, codes of conduct, training, safe work processes, effective quality assurance procedures, and safeguards to maintain impartiality and confidentiality.
Most third-party certifiers have at least one accreditation to that ensure that they are following and enforcing proper quality standards on both themselves, as well as the companies they certify. Some certification bodies choose to undergo multiple accreditations. Third-party certifiers who choose not to undergo accreditation typically do so for a number of reasons that can vary from the cost of accreditation, to the ability of the certification body itself to meet the impartiality requirements.
Impartiality is a large component of the accreditation process, and for good reason. Impartiality provides assurance to all stakeholders that the certification mark can be trusted. The reason accredited certification offers this higher level of trust is due to the multiple series of checks and audits that are required of the certification body itself under the accreditation process. After a certification body becomes accredited, they are required to be continually reassessed to assure they are continuing to conduct certification activities in compliance with international requirements.
Certification and accreditation are similar in the fact that they both provide detailed, step by step requirements for business processes and systems. The standard the certification or accreditation requirements are based upon detail what requirements need to be met, without specifying how to meet them. This allows businesses the flexibility to utilize their own internal processes and intellectual property, and still meet achieve certification or accreditation.
Both certification and accreditation are voluntary processes, meaning they are not mandated. In the cannabis industry, this is primarily because there have not been cannabis specific third-party accredited certifications available for regulators to mandate. One exception is the certification of testing laboratories to ISO 17025. Many US state cannabis regulations require ISO 17025 certification for any third-party laboratory testing cannabis under their program.
States are definitely looking for accredited cannabis certifications to help control for quality and safety in their cannabis programs. Which is terrific to see, considering US cannabis programs typically attempt to control for the quality of safety of products through testing alone, which is wholly inadequate. While testing is a critical component, trying to control the quality and safety of cannabis products through testing alone goes against one of the basic tenants of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP):
Quality cannot be tested into a product.
The quality is either there or it isn’t, by the time the product is tested.
Regulatory attempts to control cannabis quality and safety through testing alone have contributed to the large number of product recalls, testing failures, and unsafe products seen across the industry. Certain states have made attempts through their legislation to address this issue, but for the most part, there are still no programs in the US that have implemented a requirement for quality standards and third-party accredited certification to proactively protect health and safety within their programs.
Historically, certification bodies involved in other industries that have been around for decades have declined to become involved with the cannabis industry due to federal illegality. This is slowly beginning to change since passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. However, it is important to realize that certifications being issued by traditional certification bodies are not providing cannabis specific certification. Instead, they provide certification to existing requirements from the food or supplement industries.
In the cannabis industry, at this particular time, seeking accredited certifications may be difficult. However, cannabis companies who have achieved certification of any kind deserve recognition and commendation for the efforts they are putting forth to assure the products they produce are safe, consistent, and good quality, as well as providing a safe and healthy workplace.