Organic exports face testing times from redundant norms

  • Jumping through hoops: The organic products are tested in multiple laboratories, which involves time and cost s,and is an example of why India has a low rank in the ease of doing business

    Exporters of organic products face a tough time getting their products tested in the country as the presence of multiple export control bodies has narrowed the choice of laboratories for them and also increased costs due to multiple-testing requirements, according to a recent study by a Delhi-based think tank.

    While there are 112 laboratories accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) that are also approved by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), less than one-fifth are approved by export control bodies such as the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority(APEDA), Export Inspection Council, BIS and Tea Board, a report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) on organic farming in India pointed out. The report will be released on Wednesday.

    Hassles all the way

    “Since all export control bodies want the testing laboratories to register with them, it is a hassle for the laboratories, which have to spend a lot of time and money getting multiple registrations done,” said Arpita Mukherjee from ICRIER.

    APEDA, which regulates fruits and vegetables and has been implementing product traceability for products such as peanuts since last December, has just 14 laboratories listed as being competent to carry out sampling and testing of organic products against 112 laboratories accredited by NABL and FSSAI.

    Of these, the Export Inspection Council (EIC) of India, the nodal agency for export control of food products such as pepper, milk and basmati rice, recognises just eight laboratories, while 13 laboratories are recognised by the BIS and seven laboratories are recognised by the Tea Board.

    “If food items are accredited by both the NABL and the FSSAI, all aspects of testing and food safety are covered and there should be no need for further tests. Allowing export control bodies to insist on separate registrations is what is making life difficult for exporters and should be done away with,” Mukherjee said.

    No export testing

    The report pointed out that it was ironic that while 98 laboratories approved by NABL and FSSAI were eligible to test for organic product imports or items sold in the domestic market, they cannot test products for export.

    Redundant testing

    For exporters of certain items, including spices such as turmeric, the consignments have to be tested not just in an APEDA approved laboratory but also in a Spices Board of India-approved quality evaluation laboratory, despite the fact that organic is free from chemicals and/or additives, which should have come up in the APEDA approved laboratory test report itself.

    “The product is being tested in multiple laboratories, which involves time, effort and cost and is an example demonstrating why India has a low rank in the ease of doing business,” the report stated.

    In 2016-17, export of organic products from India was valued at $370 million, which was about 17.5 per cent higher than the previous year. In 2015-16, some of India’s top markets were the EU, the US, Canada, Korea and Australia.

  • Spain reaches the top ten of organic consumers

  • The "bio" production sector is in full swing; Spain is a world leader in terms of production and has entered the top ten of organic consumption, and big retailers don't want to miss this train.

    This has been revealed by the director of the Bioculture Fair, Ángeles Parra; a forum held this week at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona. "The figures that are being discussed make us very hopeful. Spain is no longer behind when it comes to 'bio' consumption and is now a world leader in the production and has also entered the top ten of organic consumers. There has been an increase in the number of specialised stores, and the big retailers do not want to miss this train," pointed out Parra.
    For its director, "BioCultura is the reflection of a market that is in a clear expansion. And this trend will continue in the next few years. Large retailers have entered the sector. We believe it is good that organic food reaches the greatest number of households." However, Parra points out that "we want the essence of our sector not to be lost and we believe that 'bio' trade must be accompanied by ethics and social justice."
    "More and more big retailers want to attend BioCultura. We cannot prevent it, because we are not judges deciding what is good and what is evil, but we can set the conditions for their presence at the fair, so that everyone has the space and the presence they need," said the director of the event.
    "From the beginning," she added, "we have supported small producers and family businesses, those who have always been in this fight with the conviction that a healthier world is possible, and we will not stop doing it."
    The figures of BioCultura
    The fair Biocultura will celebrate its 24th edition this year with more than 700 exhibitors and the prospect of welcoming more than 70,000 visitors; figures which, according to its director, "show the great performance of the organic sector in Catalonia and in Spain as a whole. We have remodelled the fair to accommodate the largest number of companies, and despite that, some have been left out and others cannot participate with all the space they would have wanted," said Parra, who affirms they have been forced to set up tents in outdoor areas of the Palau Sant Jordi to grow by 10% in terms of space and capacity.
      Publication date: 5/5/2017
  • Organic or non-organic?

    • Kirianna Crowe, nutritional therapist, says there may be some benefit to organic foods, but whether it is worth the extra cost is still out for debate.
      Kirianna Crowe, nutritional therapist, says there may be some benefit to organic foods, but whether it is worth the extra cost is still out for debate.
      Brent Calver/OWW
    Grocery stores are introducing more organically-grown items to their shelves, but there is still debate over whether it’s worth the extra cost to buy. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency identifies an organic product as being grown with no synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.
    Brenda Shaw, owner of Okotoks Natural Foods, said buying organic ensures people aren’t consuming potentially harmful toxins through their produce.
    “I would recommend the organics,” said Shaw. “Buying organic, you’re ensured you’re not getting any of that, any trace amounts of any of those chemicals in your food.”
    She said conventionally-grown produce is often coated in chemicals, which can be absorbed into the fruit or vegetable itself and ingested by the consumer. Safer foods would include items like avocados because of their thicker, less-porous skins, she said.
    There is a list called The Dirty Dozen put out by the Environmental Working Group, which lists the most potentially harmful non-organic produce, she said. The list includes strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.
    “For people who maybe can’t afford to buy everything organic, then they can just sort of go by the dirty dozen list, the ones more heavily-sprayed with herbicides and pesticides,” said Shaw. “If you were going to do only a portion of your diet organic, those would be the ones to definitely get on the organic list.”
    She said commercial fruit and vegetable washes are helpful in removing some of the harmful chemicals, but they can’t remove those toxins that have been absorbed into the food.
    Another reason to eat organic is for the nutritional benefits, she said. Some studies show organically-grown food is higher in vitamins and minerals than non-organic, she said.
    “A lot of organic producers will do things like crop rotation, putting minerals into the soil, so the soil itself is generally a lot healthier, so therefore the food itself is as well,” said Shaw.
    Nutritional therapist Kirianna Crowe said she’s not sure the evidence justifies the elevated cost of organic foods.
    “Studies have shown there may be a slightly higher percentage of nutrients in certain organic foods, in the organically-grown versus the non-organically-grown foods, but there hasn’t been a lot of convincing information to make it work the price difference we see,” said Crowe. “Chances are you’re not really going to get that many more vitamins and minerals out of organic food as opposed to non-organic food.”
    Crowe said it’s possible organic foods could contain more antioxidants and phytonutrients, which have both been proven to prevent disease and help the body function better by eliminating carcinogens.
    They’re higher in phytonutrients because without the use of chemicals, the plants have to use their own natural defense mechanisms, she said.
    “Organic foods aren’t treated with as many chemicals, so the plants aren’t comfortable,” said Crowe. “Plants, when they’re stressed, produce more of those defense mechanisms, and phytonutrients are a plant’s defense.”
    When a plant releases its phytonutrients, they help by strengthening the stem or shell to protect against the environment or predators, she said. This becomes a boost of fibre when humans ingest the fruits or vegetables derived from the plant, she said.
    However, not all organic farms will produce plants with phytonutrients, because some may use different types of pesticides in their production, she said.
    The regulations behind organic farms state only that pesticides have to be certified natural and appear on a specific list of products in order for food to be certified as organic.
    “That doesn’t mean they’re less toxic than the pesticides used in conventional growing, so that’s one thing to consider,” she said. “Just because something’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. It could be just an dangerous or toxic as the pesticide used in conventional growing.”
    She said there haven’t been any studies that reveal produce containing toxic levels of any kind of pesticide. In fact, none register more than trace amounts, she said.
    Unless a person consumed pounds of the food at a time, the body should be able to get rid of any trace level of chemicals, she said.
    “We wouldn’t be a human race without being able to detoxify ourselves using our own organs,” said Crowe.