Organic Food Regulation for Protecting Consumers and Farmers Interest
Organic food regulation should protect interests of consumers, farmers
The US is organic farming's largest market, and India has the highest number of organic farmers. For the farmer, it presents a low-external-input, low-debt approach, with farm-level resilience improved through diversity-based cropping.
In the era of climate change, organic farming’s approaches are suitable for both mitigation and adaptation. For the consumer, organic food production, especially accompanied by traditional seed varieties, means safer and nutritious food. Organic farming enterprises also take up eco-friendly food processing, while retaining the nutritional qualities of the produce.
The government had recently brought in large flagship programmes to promote organic farming. The recent growth in “formally-counted” organic farming areas and the number of farmers is reflective of the investments being made. As per reports, the year-on-year growth rate of the organic sector is anywhere between 20% and 25%.
While this is ecouraging, organic farming accounts for just 1.7% of India’s cultivated area, and the organic food is not even 0.1% of India’s $300 billion annual food consumption. That’s why the recent regulations around organic farming brought by The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) raise many questions. They will come into effect next month.
The regulation requires organic food sold in the market to have a certification – either from a third party or Participatory Guarantee System (PGS). It exempts only small producers or the producer organisations who sell directly to consumers.
It’s ironical that in spite of using toxic chemicals, producers in the conventional non-organic sector do not have to spend to guarantee compliance with food safety regulatory requirements. Additionally, the country’s Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, doesn’t apply to farming operations, farmers or their crop products at the farm level.
FSSAI does not seem to realise that organic farming, by its nature, will go a long way in fulfilling the regulators’ primary mandate of securing food safety. A nascent industry like organic farming needs as much facilitation and promotion as possible. The haste with which the FSSAI moved forward to regulate the country’s 0.1% food production is very uncharacteristic and inexplicable compared to the speed with which it sought to regulate actually-unsafe food.
To ensure that fake organic items are not sold is indeed a noble objective and prevents misbranding. But misbranding of organic food is no more unsafe than the food citizens access routinely.
To equate quality assurance with certification is faulty. Certificates can be purchased. How do you explain reports of chemical residues in certified organic food or rejection of certified export consignments? It should be noted that certifiers have an inherent conflict of interest in wanting to expand their business by certifying more farms as organic. Increase in fake organic produce is a matter of concern not just for consumers but for organic farmers too. Food regulators should focus on stopping really unsafe foods rather than go after organic ones.