Picking products in the name of “organic produce” and hoping to reap health benefits out of it? Think again. Most raw produce that is sold in organic stores do not come with a necessary certification.
The risk of being fooled is higher if you pick fruits or vegetables from organic stores that are being sold without packaging. Here is why.
A check at a few organic stores would reveal that while cereals and pulses that have been well-packaged have a seal on them that is necessary for certification, fruits and vegetables have none.
While a few certifying agencies that are authorised to certify these products explain that they have not being giving certificates for raw produce, others explain that it is being done only if fruits and vegetables are packed as per the directions of Agricultural and Processed Foods Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).
Consumers buying from organic stores ought to look for a certification mark by the agencies or the Certified India Organic Seal. However, a reality check showed us that most organic stores have been selling raw organic produce without the labels for certification.
Narayan Upadhyaya, director, Aditi Organic Creations Private Limited, Bengaluru, one of the certifying agencies said that for fruits and vegetables to be authenticated as organic, they undergo a certain procedure and this begins with packing it right.
The APEDA has a certain set of guidelines on how the produce ought to be packed as well as what is to be followed. “This does not apply for export products alone but also for the ones sold here,” he explained.
With the produce being put on market shelves like the other ones in market, one has to only rely on laboratory tests to ascertain the authenticity of it being organic.
Dr KK Krishnamurthi, president, Indian Society for Certification of Organic Products, Tamil Nadu said that with such products, customers can only rely on lab tests.
“First, these products must be free of chemicals and pesticides. For this, it undergoes a series of test which includes testing of the soil to ensure there are no chemicals,” he said.
Besides, customers can only rely on going by the physical appearance of the produce. “Organic produce can be left on the kitchen counter for nearly a week and does not go bad. They do not need refrigeration,” he said.
Dr Krishnamurthi said that similar tests apply even for rice. “The normal rice goes stale overnight and the water separates. Organic rice, however, stays fresh even when left overnight,” he added.
Even as these products carry no certification, market prices of several ‘organic’ fruits and vegetables are nearly double the other varieties available in market.
For instance, while the Delhi carrot is available at Rs 56 a kilo at Hopcoms, the organic variety is priced anywhere between Rs 50 to Rs 60 for half a kilo in the organic stores. The prices of banana are similar. While the regular banana costs Rs 65 a kilo, the organic variety costs Rs 40-Rs 50 for half a kilo.
A member of one of the certifying agencies, who did not wish to be named, explained that this produce, if not packed could be the non-organic variety and paying so much for it would fetch no benefits.
For several years now, use of chemicals, fertilizers and artificial colours has been a cause of concern with the consumption of vegetables and fruits. While some reports suggest that the artificial colour used in turmeric could be carcinogenic, there is a fear that these chemicals could also cause allergic reactions.
According to the Times of India, Green S was used to colour green pea, revealed a test conducted. Green S (C 27 H 25 N 2 O 7 S 2 Na) is also known as E142 and is a food colourant that has been banned in Canada, United States of America, Japan and Norway. Consumption of Green S in excess is said to cause allergic reactions and is one of the colourants that the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group recommends to be eliminated from the diet of children.
India at present has two systems of certification for organic produce. In the Participatory Guarantee System, farmers test each other’s soil and produce to check if chemicals have been used. These in-turn coordinate with non-governmental organisations to market the produce. They function under the larger umbrella of PGS Organic Council
On the other hand, the government has identified over 30 agencies that certify products as being organic. This is controlled by the National Programme for Organic Production. Products that are marked chemical-free over a span of three years would later be given the PGS-India Organic Symbol.
New regulations from July
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has laid out a separate set of guidelines that would apply for the sale of organic food products starting from July 2018.
With this, companies selling organic produce would have to be certified by either the National Programme for Organic Production or the Participatory Guarantee System. They could also get a certification from the FSSAI that terms this food as organic.
“From July, any company that claims to sell organic food and not sticking to standards can be prosecuted,” Pawan Aggrawal, CEO, FSSAI told The Hindu.
The rules were finalised a year after the draft notification was put out for review. A notification dated December 19, 2017 lays down guidelines for anyone manufacturing, selling and packing organic produce:
“Labelling on the package of organic food shall convey full and accurate information on the organic status of the product. Such product may carry a certification or quality assurance mark of one of the systems mentioned in regulation 4 in addition to the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India’s organic logo. All organic foods shall comply with the packaging and labelling requirements specified under the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011 in addition to the labelling requirements under one of the applicable systems mentioned in regulation 4.
Regulation 4 here, speaks about having the necessary certification either through the NPOP or participatory guarantee system or any other system notified by the FSSAI.
The FSSAI also has Jaivik Bharat, a portal that has the essential information about buying organic products in India.
Total area under Organic certification in India is 5.71 million hectares
India ranks first in terms of the number of organic producers and stands 9th in the area under organic agriculture.
Look for these to check if your products are organic
· Has a better smell compared to non-organic food
· Does not have polish or glossy coat over it
· Uneven ripening, different in size and colour
· Fruits such as pomegranate and guava smaller in size
Here’s also what the government mandates for anyone selling organic products
· Labelling shall convey clear and accurate information on the organic status of the product.
· Biodegradable, recyclable, reusable systems and eco-friendly packaging materials shall be used wherever possible for packing
· When the full standards requirements are fulfilled, products shall be sold as "produce of organic agriculture" or a similar description.
· The name and address of the person or company legally responsible for the production or processing of the product shall be mentioned on the label.
· The packages shall be closed in such a manner that substitution of the content cannot be achieved without manipulation or damage of the seal.
· Additional product information shall be made available on request.
Note: This copy was updated on 8 February, 2018.