FSSAI’s move regarding organic food’s certification not wise: CSE

Making organic certification mandatory will only promote the certification industry but not safe food  

By Sonam Taneja
Last Updated: Friday 23 June 2017
Credit: Flickr
Credit: Flickr Credit: Flickr

Delhi-based non-profit, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has disapproved of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)’s move to make certification of organic food sold in India mandatory. It says that not only will such a move promote just the certification industry but also strike a blow to the organic farming movement in India and impact country's food safety.

On March 31, 2017, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had issued a notice asking for comments on a proposed regulation titled “Draft Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017” (Draft Regulations). The regulation seeks to make certification mandatory for any food that claims to be “organic” in the domestic market.

Currently, certification for food sold as “organic” in India is not mandatory. However, there are two prevalent certification systems which are voluntarily followed by those who want to sell food under this category. The first system, which is governed by the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is mandatory for exports. It is called the National Programme for Organic Production and is also referred to as “Third Party Certification”. The second system, governed by the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, is called the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) and is meant only for the domestic market. The Third Party Certification system is applicable to individual farmers or farmer groups, while the PGS is applicable only to farmer groups and works around the collective responsibility of the group.

The proposed Draft Regulations allow for the direct sale of “fresh organic produce” by producers or producer organisations to the end consumer without it having been certified. However, “processed food” is not exempt from the requirement of certification. This means that for any processed food to be sold as “organic” in Indian markets, it will have to be certified either by an agency under the Third Party Certification system or under PGS.

While both certification systems have a procedure for certification of processed food, practically, as of now, processed food certified under PGS is not a reality. The PGS guidelines allow certification of processed food as organic, only if the entire operation is carried out under the supervision of the PGS group of farmers (or a federation of few groups) and the items being processed are the direct produce of the group (or the groups forming the federation).In simple terms, for PGS-certified processed food, the raw produce must belong to the group of farmers and the processing must be undertaken under their supervision.

Amit Khurana, Senior Programme Manager, Food Safety and Toxins Unit, CSE says, “We understand that most PGS farmers are not undertaking any kind of processing and because they cannot not sell their produce for processing outside the group / federation, they are dealing only in fresh produce.” The sale of fresh organic food in India is already facing many challenges because of a lack of market linkages. As a result, farmers do not get the premium price they deserve for organic food and they are suffering, he adds.

Khurana said that the draft regulations could spell a lot of trouble if they became law, “If that happens, it will further eliminate any sale of PGS produce for processing outside the group and PGS farmers will be left with very limited options.”

One option could be to convert to the expensive system of Third Party Certification. But that too would be a futile move since it would only lead to the industry of certification agencies being promoted. Farmers who are unable to afford third party certification, might continue selling fresh produce despite the discouraging market situation, or worse, may quit organic farming. This adverse impact on the organic farming movement will lead to more food grown with the use of pesticides and other chemicals and will impact food safety in India.

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  • It's just only one way of looking at things , only a one sided view,a bias way of articulation. What happened to the concerns of those consumers who are paying a premium price for it? If the concerns articulated is genuine then there should have been a solution to those issues. What our farmers need is a stable and enabling environment, a supportive hand in improving those structural and systemic bottlenecks which punished them both for producing more or less ( due to crop failures). They don't need our pity.

    Posted by: Sam | 3 years ago | Reply
    • The proposed draft regulations will not be supportive of farmers and will infact discourage them from organic farming. The current system of organic certification is process-based and therefore, even certified organic food may inadvertently contain residues of toxic substances due to environmental pollution. The solution lies in having product standards for organic food - i.e. how much pesticide etc. can organic food contain, keeping inadvertent environmental pollution in mind. US fixes a limit of 5% of respective limit for non-organic food and Canada and Australia fix the limit at 10%. In order to ensure food safety in organc food, we need similar limits in India.

      Posted by: Sonam Taneja | 3 years ago | Reply
      • The purpose of my comment was to highlight those aspects which have been ignored in articulation. Our system is not perfect, we don't have many things which we should have. Highlight the ommision is done by everyone else but as a reader of dte I expected the writer to add what's the way forward and if possible what can be an alternative to the present policy. Just a suggestion to improve the quality of the article.

        With regards

        Posted by: Sam | 3 years ago | Reply
        • Thanks for the suggestion. Perhaps not clear, but we feel that having product standards for organic food is a solution.

          Posted by: Sonam Taneja | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Its Good Move..

    Posted by: Saurabh Srivastava | 3 years ago | Reply
  • I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post. Food License

    Posted by: Asdd | 2 years ago | Reply
  • thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post! its good to know such insights. i will share this on the website as well

    Posted by: Geet | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Your blog on fssai food license is well written.

    Posted by: Fsaai Registration | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Govt shall set up labs to get food item tested for any residual of pesticides etc. and if not found it may be termed Organic. Also TERM ORGANIC is misunderstood by almost all people who dont know term Organic.

    Organic farming means use of less pesticides/approved pesticides within specified limit as per standards set by EU or other Global Standards.

    Posted by: Atul | one year ago | Reply
  • Actually PGS system was promoted by Civil society organisation from 2009 onwards as PGS Organic Council, (brainstorm started in 2006) with guide lines of The International Federation of Organic agriculture Movement (IFOAM), Organic farmers Association of India (OFAI) and National Standards of Organic Farming(NCOF) Ghaziabad with clear understanding and sharing experiences in number of meeting. PGSOC is a structure, consist of 21 NGOS across the nation promoting organic farming with small,medium size and tribal farming communities and around 10,000 famers are part of it completely of TRUST & PEER REVIEW by farming families. With the same principle, NCOF sent letter on 7.10.2011, No10-3/2010-NCOF, and Ministry of Agriculture officially introduced Low cost alternative certification system as PGSINDI to support small farming as group certificate but need online data entry and quite cumbersome. The move is well appreciated and real alternative low cost compared to 'Private Third Party system" . The real sad part of the FSSAI mandatory notification is completely non recognised the PGSOC system. Some of the PGSOC members are running social enterprises with fair trade principles which is remarkably supported by consumer community. These consumers have fear of private bodies will have large play, consumer may end up with paying more to such products in very near future are frustrated with the notification. The article is exactly caught the same point, I do agree with it.

    Posted by: Robert Leo, | one year ago | Reply