Next time you pick up ‘organic’ stuff from the store; make sure it really is 'organic’

In India, there is no compulsory certification required to sell ‘organic’ products and no assurance that authorities are checking the brands which claim to be so.
Next time you pick up ‘organic’ stuff from the store; make sure it really is 'organic’
Next time you pick up ‘organic’ stuff from the store; make sure it really is 'organic’
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At super-markets or farmers’ markets, one can see people lined up to buy ‘fresh’ vegetables and products, claiming to be made of natural products.

There are hundreds of products called ‘organic’ sold in stores around India. But here is the catch, are all products branded as ‘organic’ really organic? And what does ‘organic’ mean, how do we define it?

In India, there is no compulsory certification required to sell ‘organic’ products and no assurance that authorities are checking the brands which claim to be so.

There are various organisations like Aditi, Indian Organic Certification for Agriculture (INDOCERT), Apof Organic Certification Agency (AOCA) which provides certification for food products according to the National Program for Organic Production (NPOP) standards.

The NPOP standards are set guidelines which make sure that the farms are chemical-free.

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows:

“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. “

Narayanan Upadhyay, Managing Director of Aditi, a private certifying agency says that there is no check in the market and any producer can sell products calling them natural or organic and fool customers.

Narayanan says that the duty of a certifying body is regulating the farms and providing the certificates every year. But beyond that, these bodies cannot regulate the products in the market in any way. He added, “The word ‘organic’ is not protected in India and can be used by anyone.”

The Organic Farmer’s Market in Chennai is a popular destination for those looking for organic food. But no food or agricultural produce sold in this market is labelled organic, nor does it have certification.

Ananthu, who runs the market, says that the certification programme is too lengthy and expensive in India. So, smaller farmers don’t go for certification.

 “We have not done certification because it is very expensive and there is no proper regulation of products in the markets. Creating a trustworthy customer-retailer relationship is more important than getting certifications,” he says, adding that, “We are always ready to tell our customers about the farmers and the places from where we get these products.”

Ananthu is a trusted name in India’s organic market and products are chosen from farmers within his trust circle. There is however no guarantee that an ‘organic’ product sold in a big supermarket is necessarily so.

“It is illegal to sell something as organic without certification, and it is the FSSAI’s duty to periodically check such products in the market,’ says Rajesh Krishnan, an environmental activist and organic farmer.

Rajesh Krishnan, like many other organic farmers believe that certification is not necessary. “Organic farming as a concept was to cater to a local market. Also, small farmers cannot afford the certification. This concept has to work on trust basis,” he says.

Oliver King, Principal Scientist at the MSSRF says that for 200-300 acres of land, the certification agencies will ask for Rs. 1 lakh per year. “How will the small scale farmers afford it?” he asks.

The situation is even worse with ‘organic cosmetics’ according to some.

Srinivas Krishnasamy, Co-founder, Krya, an organic cosmetics and cleaning products brand, says that though there are certified organisations for food and agriculture, for cosmetics there is no Indian certification available. 

One has to go for certification of international countries including United States Department of Agriculture or European market certification, Ecocert. He added that these certifications are only helpful to prove to customers that it is a trustworthy brand.

“Tamil Nadu government has taken up a good initiative of certifying organic products at a cheaper rate but it won’t work if a person wants to export a product abroad,” says Srinivas.

What should you be aware as a consumer?

If you are hell bent on buying organic food or agricultural produce, try sourcing it from exclusive markets. Though packets here may not be labelled, these are sourced from small time farmers and work on trust basis.

If a product you are buying in a regular store is labelled organic, then check for the certification. If it’s missing, that means it need not be organic.

If you are buying ‘organic’ or ‘herbal’ cosmetics, then just know that there is no guarantee it is so.

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