The European Commission has decided to derecognise five certifying bodies (CBs) from giving clearance or ratifying exports of Indian organic products for their failure to meet the ethylene oxide (ETO) norms in consignments, particularly sesame (til/gingelly).

A draft of the European Union Committee on Organic Production (COP) on derecognising the five CBs or certifying agencies was issued in October for comments from various stakeholders. These comments were taken up last week before it took a final call.

With all EU members supporting the move, the COP decided to derecognise the five CBs - four from the European Union (EU) and one from the US - on November 30.

The ratification of the derecognition comes despite hectic lobbying by the European Union, US trade bodies and consultants against any action on the five. Instead, they sought action against APEDA.

The EU derecognised the five CBs, which certified over 80 per cent of organic products exports to the EU, as they had certified some 90 shipments against which the EU Organic Farm Information System (OFIC) issued notifications for ETO level being excess than permitted level 0.1mg/kg.

The five CDs are ECOCERT India Pvt Ltd, CU Inspections Ltd, Indian Organic Certification Agency (Indocert), Lacon Quality Certifications Pvt Ltd - all based in EU -and US-based OneCert International Private Ltd.

The blacklisting will come into force from January 1, 2022, and will be valid until the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), removes them from the “high risk category” list they have been placed after being found at fault.

APEDA, which is the competent authority in India to supervise organic certification processes, has also suspended OneCert’s accreditation for one year, while ECOCERT, CU Inspections, IndoCert have been barred from registering any new processor or exporter.

In addition, APEDA has also asked Aditi Organic Certifications to not register any new processor or exporter. The five CBS have also been imposed ₹2-5 lakh penalties.

In its draft, the EU COP said: “Since October 2020, a large number of consignments totalling thousands of tonnes allegedly organic sesame seed contaminated with ethylene oxide have been imported from that third country, in particular from operators controlled by control bodies supervised by India…”

ETO is considered carcinogenic for humans by the EU and a few other countries and it is strictly monitored to ensure that shipment of any product conforms to the norms. In the case of India, the presence of the chemical exceeded far more than the permitted level, which the EU felt posed a health risk to its consumers.

The EU derecognition of the five agencies also means that their names should not appear in APEDA’s list of CBs recognised by it. The derecognition is unlikely to affect exports of organic products -as feared by the EU and US trade bodies - from India as there are 28 other CBs, Indian and foreign, that can fill in the void.