Since 2007, the Council of Agriculture (COA), acting on the basis of the “Agricultural Production and Certification Act,” has been promoting the Traceable Agricultural Products (TAP) system. It is based on core values of agriproduct safety and traceability, sustainability of the agricultural environment, and information transparency. The system’s certification standards are risk management, batch management, traceability records, and enter information into system, which producers are guided to apply in their operations. In addition, the TAP system incorporates an international third party certification system that is both professional and fair, with certification bodies that have been accredited as meeting international standards using methods that include document reviews, on-site audits, and sample testing to give certifications to producers and businesses who meet certification standards. There are also follow-up checks and sample tests of products on the market to ensure continued compliance with those standards. Those who have received TAP certification can, in accordance with regulations, use the TAP logo on their products. The products must be labeled with the name of the certification organization, the product name, a traceability code, and government website (https://taft.coa.gov.tw) to make it easier for consumers to distinguish these products in the marketplace and to search for information about them. Categories of TAP-certified products include grains and other staple foods, livestock products, aquaculture products, and various kinds of processed products, which are provided for daily consumption by the general public.
International third party certification to ensure certification quality
Certification quality is critical to ensuring the credibility of any certification system. The COA, after studying international trends, introduced a third-party certification system for the TAP system. These third-party certification bodies are required to conform to international standards for product certification organizations (ISO/IEC 17065) as well as to conditions specified by the COA for their personnel and testing laboratories. Besides applying to the COA for accreditation, they must also, after passing a COA review, apply for and pass an evaluation in a relevant field from a specified evaluation body that has signed a Multilateral Recognition Agreement through the International Accreditation Forum. Under this system, the COA can ensure that certification organizations have the ability to provide fair and professional certification services and will be internationally recognized.
Besides ensuring the sound functioning of the accreditation system, the COA (which is the Competent Authority in this area), acting on the basis of the provisions of the Agricultural Production and Certification Act, conducts inspections and does sample testing of the products of producers and businesses dealing in TAP-certified agriproducts. Using a system of multiple checks, each year sample testing is conducted on 1,800 items of TAP-certified agriproducts, with over 99% proving to be up to standards, indicating that certification quality for TAP agriproducts is sound and stable.
Building a guidance system to assist farmers to apply for certification
As of the end of 2020, a total of 3,311 producers and businesses had received TAP certification, and they were producing 12,113 metric tons of goods per month. In terms of the scale of certified operations, there were 37,010 hectares of land growing TAP-certified grains and other staple foods, there were 9,363 head of TAP-certified livestock being raised, and there was an area of 2,356 hectares of TAP-certified aquaculture ponds. At present there are 15 TAP certification bodies that accept applications from farmers for certification services.
In order to improve farmers’ compliance with TAP norms, shorten the learning curve, and accelerate the certification process, since 2014 the COA has subsidized the Agriculture Planning and Developing Research Center at National Taiwan University to offer training for TAP guidance personnel. At present there about 356 TAP guidance personnel, specializing in areas that include grains and other staple crops, seafood products, and processing, who provide on-site guidance services to farmers.
Strengthening marketing, reaching consumers
The COA has continually adopted various methods to promote TAP-certified products, including promotional activities at sales channels, TAP-themed markets, business matchmaking meetings, and TAP restaurants. The COA’s goal is to enable consumers to understand the unique features of the TAP system, including its content and environmental friendliness, with the aim of getting them to actually purchase TAP-certified agriproducts.
At the moment, hypermarkets and supermarkets in Taiwan all sell a variety of TAP-certified products including fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, meat products, eggs, and dairy products. Acceptance of the TAP system has been steadily increasing year by year among consumers, driving retail outlets to sell TAP-certified products and raising the willingness of farmers to apply for certification.
Promotion of the TAP system for agriproducts can help Taiwan achieve multiple goals including protecting the rights and interests of consumers, maintaining a sustainable agricultural environment, marketing agriproducts, and food products risk management. In the future, the COA will continue to work in the directions of “making participation in the TAP system easier,” “making TAP certification more beneficial,” and “upholding system values and certification quality.”