Organic Food: No Rules On The Plate

Consuming organically-grown food is a popular trend. But with little regulation, we have to rely on what producers and suppliers claim. Regulatory body FSSAI says no rules yet!

Organic food is becoming a lifestyle choice for many in India. The organic market, worth Rs.1000 crores, is growing at a steady 20 per cent every year despite the fact that organic produce is 25 per cent costlier than its conventionally grown counterpart. To be categorized as 'organic', the produce must be cultivated or bred and packaged according to very exacting and tough practices. But, in India, not everything claiming to be 'organic' is truly organic. There are few prescribed standards and a regulatory framework that informs and protects consumers is absent.

In response to BOOM's previous report, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which is the statutory body for laying down the rules for food standards, said in an email response, “As of now, we do not have standards for Organic Food. However, we are in the process of formulation of standards for organic food products.”

So for now, consumers will need to rely on the claims made by farmers and suppliers. Hyderabad-based Sresta, which markets 24 Mantra that has been selling organic products for 10 years and supplies to over 1500+ outlets across India and abroad, says their self-regulatory processes are sound.

CEO N Balasubramanian says “We keep track of what the farmers are using for produce. We sign a formal contract with them and our people visit the farms regularly in order to make sure that they follow all organic practices. Then, we finally source from the farmers who are certified by the certifying agencies. We ensure the integrity because our own people work directly with the farmers.”

But Crop Care Federation of India, a body that represents the interests of fertilizer and pesticide companies, has charged 24 Mantra for misleading consumers in its packaging by claiming unproven benefits from organic food. Advisor to Crop Care Federation of India, S Ganesan says "Organic food standard stipulate that products should be packed in biodegradable material. The products we picked up from the market have been packed in plastic material. They have claimed 'save your children from cancer causing pesticide' on the pack which is a violation of labelling rules of Organic product.”

Reacting to this charge, Sresta's CEO N Balasubramanian said, “The matter is still being investigated and discussed. However, we are very clear that whatever we have claimed we will substantiate that to the FSSAI. We have not claimed anything that misleads anyone. We are very clear that as of today we don’t contravene any law, food laws or FSSAI laws.”

BOOM has written to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to know when the rules will be formulated but we have received no response yet. Clearly, when it comes to the quality of organic food, the onus will continue to be on the consumer.

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