The Commerce Ministry has begun adopting additional onsite measures to check field-level irregularities in organic farming certification. This includes verification of organisations that certify organic farming.

The development follows “various irregularities being observed in the certification activities”, the Ministry said in response to a grievance lodged by Chennai-based service organisation Sri Sri Sri Swamy Vivekananda Trust (SSVT) with the Prime Minister’s office (PMO).

On February 9, the SSVT wrote to the PMO urging that authorities should enforce organic cotton certification to protect consumers and weaker sections of farmers.

‘Strengthening monitoring’

“Based on the severity of the non-compliances, action as per the catalogue of NPOP (National Programme for Organic Production), has been taken by the National Accreditation Board (NAB) against non-compliant operators and certification bodies,” the Ministry said.

Further, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has worked on preventive measures to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents. “APEDA is strengthening the monitoring mechanism using IT-enabled tools and verification of information using validation services with the approval of the NAB,” the Ministry said.

Trade sources said the response came “ironically” two days before Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Anupriya Patel, told the Lok Sabha that the Ministry had got “no specific information” on the ongoing scam in organic certification where non-organic produce was being falsely certified as organic.

Loss of Organic India brand

In its representation, the SSV trust regretted that irregularities in organic cotton certification have resulted in the loss of the “Organic India” brand overseas.

Pointing out how organic cotton projects were being certified and how the registration changed many hands between May 2013 and January 2021, the trust said the number of projects so far, have remained unchanged. The certification then went to four agencies. Of these, two certification agencies were suspended in August last year. These are examples of how “the largescale organic cotton certification projects certification has been a “peculiar phenomenon”.

The trust urged the Centre to come up with comprehensive statutory organic textile standards for the value chain.

Stating that the trade was promoting a German-based private label standards firm, it also called for a focus on “the weak organic enforcement” to strengthen the Organic India brand.

The trust also urged the Centre to make public the notice of suspension or termination of organic certification companies, in addition to curbs on organic trade in risky products such as cotton, basmati rice, sesame seed and turmeric.

Restoring consumer trust and the credibility of the Organic India brand as a “vibrant and honest” one is more important than losing income from the trade for some time, it said.