The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has penalized three certifying agencies, including termination, for irregularities they made in violation of the protocol, thus all is not well with the certification process for Indian organic products.
APEDA, the nodal institution for the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), issued its most recent orders a week ago. In them, it revoked the accreditation granted to Bhummatha Organic Certification Bureau (BOCB), terminated the accreditation of APOF Organic Certifying Agency, and suspended for six months the certification of Fair Certification Services Pvt Ltd.
A “pecuniary penalty” of 5 lakh will be imposed on Bhummatha and APOF, and APEDA will alert the European Commission on Fair Certification.
Since APEDA suspended five certification organizations eight months ago, the country’s accreditation system for organic farming, production, processing, and trade has come under scrutiny as a result of its most recent decisions. The embargo was put in place when it was discovered that organic products they had certified for export were in violation of the European Commission’s ethylene oxide standards.
TQ Cert was suspended by the nodal body in January of this year due to similar infractions. The recent APEDA findings match those for which TQ Cert was penalized. Recurring violations, according to traders and experts, necessitate a thorough assessment of the certification and accreditation procedure.
These organizations are accredited by the National Accreditation Board (NAB). A trade source who wished to remain anonymous questioned, “The issue with the new action that APEDA has taken against the three agencies is how such firms allowed accreditation.
S Chandrasekaran, a trade analyst who monitors the exports of organic products, claims that despite APEDA suspending or terminating five certification organizations (in October 2021), the organizations are either not serious or purposefully undermining the system because of the less severe penalties.
The trade source concurred, stating that even though these certifying agencies make crores of rupees annually, they only face fines of Rs 5 lakh.
A copy of the three agencies’ APEDA orders reveals major omissions that were also reported earlier. For engaging in irregularities in the organic cotton procedures, all three have received punishment.
These businesses had certified organic products when there was nothing on the ground, which is a regular infringement discovered in these circumstances. These businesses lacked the personnel and resources necessary to oversee or inspect organic production.
Surprisingly, during the unannounced inspections by an evaluation committee (EC) on February 21–22 of this year, all three firms were discovered to be involved in certifying organic cotton and they were determined to be in violation of all norms.
Unaware Grower Communities
The EC discovered that growers were ignorant of their affiliation with an organization engaged in organic farming. They used agrochemicals on their crop and disregarded all organic agricultural guidelines. These businesses lacked the internal controls necessary for growing organic produce, which included an office nearby.
The yield per acre for either cotton or soybean did not match in the instance of APOF because soyabean was represented as cotton. While all three had a chance to address these discrepancies during the NAB hearing on June 30, the board was unconvinced.
In the case of Fair Certification, the NAB took action after the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association protested to the Textile Ministry that transaction certificates (TCs) had not been provided for 16,100 tonnes of organic cotton imported from India through its High Commission in India. After conducting a comprehensive inspection of the farms, certifying organizations issue TCs.
As a result, Fair Certification revoked 73 requests for TCs and issued new copies of 72 of them for more than 8,000 tonnes of cotton that were purchased from various cotton farmers associations.
The trader claimed that the Centre and officials should pay attention to the recurrent violations in light of the peculiar circumstances surrounding Bhummatha. The BOCB had no records on the grower organizations registered to produce organic cotton, according to an inspection conducted by the evaluation committee to confirm its conclusions.
BOCB had issued 900 transaction certificates, but only 50 of them provided supporting documentation. After TQ Cert was stopped by APEDA, the farmers’ associations switched to Bhummatha for certification, the dealer noted.
These groups have undergone several name changes, including Moca, Bio Cert, Vedic, TQ Cert, and now Bhummatha. They were all in trouble for violations. To prevent harm to farmers, the Center permits the transfer of grower groups. However, if this happens again, it’s time to reconsider the rules, the trader said.
In the months of March and April of this year, the BOCB issued a sizable number of transaction certificates. It certified 2.83 lakh hectares of land for organic cotton farming, an increase from 15 hectares. “TQ Cert was suspended at the end of January. Between March and April, this took place. The trader declared that this was an obvious example that required further investigation.
Long-Standing Penal Provisions
Chandrasekaran said that the NPOP penal laws date back twenty years. “The accreditation procedure of organic certifying companies will need to be overhauled, and it will need to enable severe penal sanctions,” the expert said.
According to Chandrasekaran, the existing state of organic certification in India makes it difficult to support or invest in organic products. This hinders India’s transition to organic farming, he claimed.
According to traders and experts, the Center will now need to reconsider its policies and processes on organic products as a result of the EC’s hard stance on the issue of imports of non-conforming organic products into the union and pressure to take action against APEDA.
First published on: 30 Jul 2022, 02:30 IST