Organic certifying procedure compromising, three agencies penalizing, termination.
The certification process for Indian organic products is in disarray, with the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) penalising three certifying companies, including termination, for procedure violations.
APEDA, the nodal agency for the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), withdrew the accreditation granted to Bhummatha Organic Certification Bureau (BOCB), terminated the accreditation of APOF Organic Certifying Agency, and suspended the certification of Fair Certification Services Pvt Ltd for six months in its most recent orders issued a week ago.
Bhummatha and APOF will be fined 5 lakh, and APEDA will notify the European Commission about Fair Certification.
Since APEDA outlawed five certifying agencies eight months ago, the country’s accreditation system for organic farming, production, processing, and trade has been called into question. The ban was issued after organic products certified by them for export were found to violate European Commission ethylene oxide standards.
TQ Cert was suspended by the nodal agency in January of this year for similar infractions. The latest findings of APEDA are comparable to those for which TQ Cert was penalised. According to traders and experts, frequent infractions necessitate a thorough examination of the certification and accreditation process.
These organisations are accredited by the National Accreditation Board (NAB). ‘The issue with APEDA’s new action against the three organisations is how such firms are given accreditation,’ a trade source who did not want to be identified asked.
According to S Chandrasekaran, a trade expert who analyses organic food exports, despite APEDA suspending or firing five certification organisations (in October 2021), the certification companies are either not serious or willfully jeopardising the system due to lenient punishment rules.
According to a trade source, while these certification agencies earn crores of rupees, they are penalised merely 5 lakh.
A copy of APEDA instructions for the three agencies reveals major omissions that were previously noticed. All three have been sanctioned for violating the organic cotton procedures.
A prevalent infraction discovered in these cases was that these companies had certified organic items when there was nothing on the ground. These businesses lacked the personnel and infrastructure needed to conduct inspections and oversee organic production.
Surprisingly, all three organisations were discovered to be involved in certifying organic cotton and were found to be in violation of all regulations during unannounced inspections by an evaluation committee (EC) on February 21-22, this year.
Grower groups are not aware
The EC discovered that growers were unaware that they were part of an organic agricultural cooperative. They did not observe any organic farming standards and used agrochemicals on their produce. These companies lacked an internal control structure, which necessitated the establishment of an office in the location where the grower group grew organic produce.
Soyabean was shown as cotton in the instance of APOF, and the yield per acre did not match for either cotton or soyabean. All three were given the opportunity to explain these discrepancies, but the NAB was not persuaded during its June 30 hearing.
In the matter of Fair Certification, the NAB responded when the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association, through its High Commission in India, protested to the Textile Ministry that transaction certificates (TCs) for 16,100 tonnes of organic cotton imported from India had not been provided. TCs are issued by certifying bodies after farms have been thoroughly inspected by their field employees.
Fair Certification responded by cancelling 73 TC applications and re-issuing 72 such certificates for almost 8,000 tonnes of cotton purchased from various cotton farmers’ associations.
According to the trader, the strange situation in Bhummatha should cause the Centre and officials to sit up and take notice of the recurrent infractions. The evaluation committee discovered that BOCB did not have any records on the grower groups registered to produce organic cotton during an inspection to corroborate its conclusions.
BOCB had issued 900 transaction certificates, but papers were only available for 50 of them. After APEDA halted TQ Cert, growers’ groups turned to Bhummatha for certification, according to the trader.
‘These groups have evolved from Moca to Bio Cert to Vedic to TQ Cert to Bhummatha.’ They were all arrested for infractions. To guarantee that farmers are not affected, the Centre authorises the movement of grower groups. ‘However, if this occurs again, it is time for a policy revision,’ the trader said.
Between March and April of this year, BOCB issued a large number of transaction certificates. It approved organic cotton production on an area ranging from 15 to 2.83 lakh hectares. ‘TQ Cert was suspended at the end of January.’ This occurred in March and April of this year. ‘This is an obvious instance that has to be investigated further,’ the dealer stated.
Penalties dating back decades
According to Chandrasekaran, the NPOP punitive provisions date back two decades. ‘The accreditation procedure of organic certifying bodies must be revamped immediately, and stringent penal sanctions must be implemented,’ the expert stated.
According to Chandrasekaran, the existing state of organic certification in India is a deterrent to investing in or marketing organic products. ‘This stifles the expansion of organic agriculture in India,’ he explained.
According to traders and experts, with the EC taking a tough stance on the problem of violations of organic product import restrictions into the union and coming under pressure to act against APEDA, the Centre would now have to reassess its organic product policies and procedures.