The Organic Debate – How to know that the food you are buying is really Organic.

No one wants to eat food produced using harmful chemicals and pesticides. People are willing to pay a premium for produce that is grown using safe practices and is healthy. A proxy for consumer’s shift towards Organic food can be the growth in the packaged Organic food market. Data compiled by Euromonitor International shows that the packaged Organic food market has grown over 40% over last two years (from ₹264 Cr in 2015 to ₹370Cr+ in 2017).

There are no doubts about shifting consumer preferences towards Organic food. However, one question that remains unanswered for the gullible consumer is, How to know if the product labeled Organic in the retail stores is really Organic?

Organic labeling:

The word “Organic” is not a protected word in India. Anyone can use it, and it’s variants like Organica, Organics, etc. None of these means that the product is Organic. As an informed consumer, don’t rush to buy anything that has the word Organic or its derivative on the label. Instead, try to look for an authentic Organic Certificate.

Organic Certificate:

In India, two kinds of Organic Certificates are prevalent. One issued by 3rd parties accredited through National Program for Organic Production (NPOP), a body under Ministry of Commerce & Industry. The second, a self-certification called Participatory Guarantee Scheme (PGS), implemented through Ministry of Agriculture through the National Center of Organic Farming (NCOF).

NPOP Certificate:
Worldwide, accredited 3rd parties issue Organic food certificates. On similar lines, The NPOP programme was implemented by Govt. of India in 2011 for fostering Organic Farming through 3rd Party certificate. Since the objective was to increase exports, the standards are export quality and equivalent to those laid by developed countries like US, Switzerland and European Union.

Food certified as Organic under NPOP accreditation system carries India Organic Logo. Look for it if you want to buy export quality, world-class, certified Organic produce at Indian prices.

PGS Certificate:
The cost of getting accredited under NPOP is quite high and not something that small and segregated farmers can afford. This led to the rise of PGS around 2011. PGS is a self-certification scheme in which a group of farmers come together and audit each other’s fields and certify that Organic practices are being followed. In 2015, the Govt. accepted PGS program as a valid standard to grow Organic produce and brought it under Ministry of Agriculture.

Within PGS there are two level of certificates

  1. PGS India Green – once a farmer joins a PGS group and starts using Organic practices, she gets the PGS India Green certificate for her farm. This certificate means that the farm has begun the process to transition into an Organic farm.
  2. PGS India Organic – The PGS India Green certificate gets converted to PGS India Organic certificate after three years. This certificate means that the farmer has been carrying out Organic farming on the farm for more than three years.

If you look closely, you will notice that there is an underlying conflict of interest in PGS scheme as the group certifying the Organic credentials of the produce is the same group who is growing the produce and gets commercially benefited by getting Organic credentials ratified. Probably, this is the reason that developed markets like the US, and European Union does not allow import of PGS Certified food as Organic food.

Even after these two systems being in place, one will find a multitude of products wrongly labeled or marketed as Organic on retail shelves. This is soon going to stop now. Taking cognizance of the growing malpractices and misinformation campaigns about Organic produce, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has issued draft Organic Food Regulations 2017. These cover both NPOP and PGS and are likely to be implemented effective July 2018. Once applied, it will also include labeling provisions, so anybody trying to mislead consumers through incorrect labeling will be liable for penal action.

Under this system, different existing (and possible future) Organic identification marks will make way for a single logo issued by FSSAI.

In summary:
If you want to buy authentic organic products, look for either FSSAI Jaivik-Bharat, or India Organics (not to be confused with Organic India which is a leading Organic food Company in India), or PGS-India logo on the food packet.

Contrarian view:
Do note that any of the above logo or accreditation processes involves cost. These logos signify the Organic nature of the product and bring in the sense of security. Still, it does not mean that the products without these logos are necessarily inorganic. There are farmer markets and small farms in states like Sikkim and Uttarakhand where farmers produce Organic food but do not go for any of these certifications. Like you would not for the food grown in your own garden.

Stay Safe!

Gaurav is an entrepreneur whose first Start-up was focused on providing services to patients suffering from Chronic Diseases. While researching about the causes of lifestyle diseases and the ways to reduce their incidence, he chanced upon the idea of growing healthy and nutritious food using advanced farming techniques.

He founded CityGreens with a mission to enable City Dwellers to access Safe, Healthy and Fresh food.

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