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Food Business Operators battling the Organic Certification survival with increased stringency

Written by Anil M V, 24 years experience, {Bsc. Agric, MBA, CTP} Founder of Organil Services

Organic food is gaining popularity among consumers who are looking for healthy, safe, and environmentally friendly options. However, for food business operators (FBOs) who produce, process, or trade organic food, obtaining and maintaining organic certification is becoming more challenging due to increased stringency of standards and regulations.

 Organic certification is a process that verifies that the products comply with the organic principles and practices, such as avoiding synthetic inputs, enhancing biodiversity, and ensuring traceability. Certification is duly essential for FBOs who want to access the domestic and international markets, as well as to build trust and credibility among consumers.

 However, organic certification is not a one-time affair, but a continuous and dynamic process that requires regular inspections, audits, and documentation. FBOs have to comply with various standards and regulations, depending on the destination market, such as the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulation 2017 for India, the National Organic Program (NOP) for the United States, and the European Union Organic Regulation for the EU.

These standards and regulations are constantly evolving and becoming more stringent, in response to the emerging issues and challenges in the organic sector, such as fraud, contamination, and climate change. For instance, in 2021, the USDA ended its recognition agreement with India’s APEDA, citing insufficient protection of the integrity of the USDA organic seal. This means that FBOs who want to export organic products to the US have to obtain direct certification from the USDA or its accredited certifiers, which can be more costly and time-consuming.

 Similarly, in 2022, the EU suspended five Indian certification bodies from clearing or ratifying exports of organic products, due to their failure to comply with the EU standards and ensure contamination-free products. The main reason for the suspension was the detection of ethylene oxide, a potential carcinogen, in several consignments of organic sesame seeds. Ethylene oxide is used as a fumigant to sterilize food, but it is banned in the EU and other countries. These incidents have not only affected the export market of organic products, but also raised questions about the credibility and quality of the organic certification system in India. This year the Organic EU regulation will enforce the independent direct Organic certification in line to Regulation 2018 / 848.

 FBOs are facing difficulties in meeting the diverse and stringent requirements of different markets, as well as in ensuring the integrity and traceability of their organic supply chains. They are also facing increased competition from other countries, such as China, Turkey, Kenya, Ghana, and Ethiopia, who are expanding their organic production and exports. To overcome these challenges, FBOs need to adopt a proactive and collaborative approach to organic certification.

They need to:

– Stay updated and informed about the latest standards and regulations, and their implications for their business operations.

 – Invest in improving their infrastructure, technology, and capacity to comply with the organic requirements, such as soil testing, pest management, record keeping, and labelling.

– Strengthen their internal control systems and quality assurance mechanisms to prevent and detect any fraud or contamination in their organic products.

– Enhance their communication and coordination with their certification bodies, as well as with their suppliers and buyers, to ensure transparency and traceability of their organic products.

– Seek support and guidance from the government, industry associations, and other stakeholders, to address the common issues and challenges in the organic sector, and to advocate for their interests and concerns.

 Organic certification is not only a regulatory requirement, but also a strategic advantage for FBOs who want to tap into the growing demand for organic food. By complying with the organic standards and regulations, FBOs can not only access the lucrative markets, but also improve their productivity, profitability, and sustainability. However, organic certification is also a complex and dynamic process that requires constant adaptation and innovation. Engaged to be prepared and willing to face the challenges and opportunities that come with organic certification, and to strive for excellence and improvement in their organic practices.

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