International standards in the global trade of grain and feedstuffs

21 November 20199 min reading

The international trade of agri-commodities is essential factor in food security in a world of increasing population ensuring food is moved efficiently and safely from areas of surplus to areas of deficit. Gafta’s mission is to promote free trade and provides a range of services which facilitate the movement of bulk commodities and other produce around the world.

Sarah Mann Technical Manager Gafta

Gafta is an international trade association representing over 1900 member companies in 95 countries across the world who trade in agricultural commodities and animal feedstuffs. Gafta design and maintain the standard forms of contract on which it is estimated 80% of the world’s trade in grain is shipped.

Within the Gafta contract forms are specific requirements regarding the technical services which are necessary for the trade of agri-commodities. These technical services include analysis, fumigation, supervision, sampling and weighing. Gafta provides members who deliver these services with standards and codes of best practice to abide by and assesses their compliance through independent audit. Members who meet the requirements are listed on an Approved Register which is accessed on the Gafta website.

There are specific requirements for each of the three Approved Register for which more detail is provided below. Each Approved Register has a corresponding Code of Practice, and a Gafta Standard which details the best practice requirements for delivering those services for international agri-trade.

Each Code of Practice and Gafta Standard have been written and developed by an Expert Group made up of Gafta members in the relevant category and representative of the different types of business and of different geographic regions. Users of the services have also been included in the development through public consultation and through the various Gafta Committees.

Each Approved Register has a requirement for the member to be independently audited to a recognised certification scheme. The key international accreditations which are relevant are ISO17020 for inspection companies and ISO17025 for analytical services. The Gafta Standard for Supervision, Sampling and Check Weighing and the Gafta Standard for Analysis and Testing provide alternative certification for those members for whom full accreditation is not a viable option. The Gafta Standard for Fumigation is believed to be the only international standard for the fumigation of agri-commodities; there is no alternative. Each Gafta Standard is independently audited on an annual basis by international certification body NSF International.

BENEFITS OF INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS International standards provide mutual understanding and clarification of the best practice expected from businesses. They enable a unified approach thus facilitating global trade with confidence. The key benefits of international standards over country specific standards are the removal of delays and barriers to trade. They make it simpler for businesses to operate globally by only having one standard to understand and comply with, and increase the likelihood of consistent delivery and fewer issues.

Standards enable organisations to ensure their procedures focus on what is important for their business, their employees and their customers. They provide a framework by which less experienced operators are able to develop and do business on a wider and more international basis. They can learn from the latest available best practice in an efficient manner – they don’t have to ‘reinvent the wheel’. Compliance with international standards can provide access to new customers and therefore enhance economic sustainability.

Standards often include obligations on the provision of training and the Gafta Standards are quite detailed in this respect. Gafta supports its members by providing a range of training opportunities through face-to-face courses and seminars and online learning options.

Independent verification of compliance is key for customer confidence. Audits should not be something to fear. Not only do they provide the independent verification, they can also highlight areas of improvement which in turn helps to strengthen businesses in the global marketplace.

Audit further increases customer confidence by ensuring proper independent checks are in place and they don’t need to check it themselves. Customers are not experts in how these services should be carried out and so by using Approved members they can be sure they are following the correct procedures for their purposes. Customer assurance is further enhanced through the recognition of the Approved Register logos which provide members with a powerful marketing tool for their services.

GAFTA APPROVED SUPERINTENDENTS Superintendents are hired by buyers and sellers to supervise the loading and/or discharge of a vessel, and to take representative samples of the product in order to ensure it meets the contractual requirements. The superintendent will also verify that the weight of the goods is correct and will seal the cargo compartments when loading is complete to maintain the integrity of the goods.

The Code of Practice for Superintendents requires that Gafta Approved Superintendents are independently audited to either ISO17020, the international accreditation for inspection companies, or to the Gafta Standard for Supervision, Sampling and Check Weighing. They also must abide by the Gafta Rules for Sampling and for Weighing.

The Gafta Standard for Supervision, Sampling and Check Weighing makes specific requirements for the Superintendents operations when inspecting and supervising agri-commodities. In particular it provides requirements for impartiality and the use of subcontractors and outsourced resource which is important for trustworthy trade.

The supply of safe food and feed is at the heart of Gafta’s mission and the role the superintendent plays in this is covered in the Standard through the load compartment inspection before loading commences. This also provides a good example of how Gafta collaborates with other assurance bodies by referring members to the International Database for the Transport of Feed thus harmonising the Gafta Standards with food/feed safety standards set by EU and international schemes covering transport by road, rail and water prior to loading on the vessel.

Gafta Approved Superintendents are responsible for drawing representative samples of the traded goods for quality assessment against the contractual requirements. It is important this is done correctly and consistently. Gafta provides detailed instructions on how this should be done within the Gafta No 124 Sampling Rules and additional guidance in a number of sampling guides. The Standard and Rules also reiterate the contractual requirement that these samples are then tested by a Gafta Approved Analyst.

GAFTA APPROVED ANALYSTS Gafta Approved Analysts provide sample analysis and subsequent certificates of analysis which provide the sellers and buyers with the quality information needed to meet the requirements of the contract. The analyst tests samples provided to them by superintendents as representing consignments of goods from loading and discharge ports.

In addition to demonstrating compliance to the certification requirements of the Approved Register, Gafta Approved Analysts must also participate in the Gafta Ring Test Scheme (GRTS). The GRTS is an interlaboratory proficiency testing scheme intended to assess the ability of the analyst to produce accurate, reliable, reproducible analytical data and demonstrate their ongoing abilities through twice yearly participation. The GRTS has over 300 participants and is one of the few truly international proficiency testing schemes for agri-commodities in existence.

Gafta Approved Analysts must also agree to provide analysis by the agreed methods as detailed on the Gafta No 130 Register of Analytical Methods. The Register has been aligned to ISO methods for each analytical test where possible, and where there is no ISO method, or the ISO method is not suitable for trading purposes, Gafta provides its own method. The Register of Analytical Methods is regularly reviewed by an Expert Group of Gafta Approved Analysts in consultation with the trade.

GAFTA APPROVED FUMIGATORS Fumigation of traded goods is often required to treat or prevent infestation with pests or to meet the phytosanitary or quarantine requirements of the importing country to prevent the introduction or spread of particular pests. Fumigation is the process by which a toxic gas is released into the product in a sealed environment to kill pests. Safe and effective fumigation will result in people doing the fumigation and people in the area around the fumigation area remaining safe and unharmed; the environment not being harmed; all life stages of the target pests being killed, and the commodity not being damaged in any way. For this reason, fumigation operations must be carried out by a Gafta Approved Fumigator at both loading and discharge.

Most fumigation of internationally traded agri-commodities is carried out on board the vessel in the ships holds or in containers, using a phosphine gas producing product. The Gafta Standard for Fumigation is the only international standard for the fumigation of agri-commodities. It provides detailed requirements for safe, effective fumigation, taking into consideration international shipping regulations, including how the fumigator ensures the crew and master of the ship remain safe during the in-transit fumigation for which the fumigator is not present.

The fumigation process does not end when the fumigant has been added to the product. Just as important is the end of the fumigation process when the ship arrives at its destination. Ventilation of the ships holds, and the issuance of the Gas Clearance Certificate must be carried out by a professional fumigator or the national authorities with responsibility. Gas readings must be taken by trained technicians using the correct equipment to ensure the product is safe to discharge. The residues of fumigation (such as bags and packets) are hazardous waste and should be handled and disposed of in accordance with local regulations. The Gafta Standard for Fumigation includes requirements for this, and Gafta contracts have recently been updated to ensure sellers and buyers are aware of their obligations in this respect.

The international trade of agri-commodities is essential factor in food security in a world of increasing population ensuring food is moved efficiently and safely from areas of surplus to areas of deficit. Gafta’s mission is to promote free trade and provides a range of services which facilitate the movement of bulk commodities and other produce around the world. The Approved Registers, underpinned by Gafta’s Codes of Practice, Standards and Rules are a key supportive mechanism in consistent trade. More information about Gafta and the services it provides can be found at

* Numbers correct at time of writing. The Approved Registers are updated in real time. For up to date information please refer to

[box type="shadow" align="aligncenter" class="" width="300"]Sarah Mann has been Technical Manager at Gafta for 3 and half years and during that time has managed the review, development and delivery of the Gafta Standards and the Gafta Approved Registers. Sarah has a degree in Agriculture from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK and has extensive experience in UK agriculture and international grain trade, as well as international standards applicable to the food and feed industry.[/box]

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