The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has suspended the accreditation of an organic certifying agency for a year, while barring four other agencies from registering any new processor or exporter for organic products certification. The authority has also imposed fines on the five firms.

APEDA’s decision, made on October 20, follows developments in the European Union where the European Commission (EC) issued a draft notification to blacklist five certifying agencies from certifying organic products exports from India as some shipments cleared by them failed to meet the norms for presence of ethylene oxide (ETO).

Blacklisted by EU

Four of the agencies blacklisted by EU - CU Inspections India Pvt Ltd, ECOCERT India Pvt Ltd, Indian Organic Certification Agency (Indocert) and OneCert International Private Limited- are among the five agencies against whom APEDA has taken action. The other agency is Aditi Organic Certifications Pvt Ltd.

APEDA, which is the competent authority to supervise organic certification, found OneCert being the certifying agency in case of four exporters whose organic sesame, hulled sesame, white sesame, amaranth and flax seeds shipments were found flouting the ETO minimum presence norm. APEDA, in a letter informing its actions after a hearing in September, said 36 of the complaints from the EU were against shipments certified by OneCert, which had failed to identify the source of contamination. It also charged OneCert with non-compliance in the certification programme and inconsistencies in inspection findings.

Penalty imposed

OneCert was fined ₹5 lakh, while the others were asked to pay a penalty of ₹2 lakh each. The four have also been rated under the high risk category.

In the case of Aditi, APEDA found seven complaints from the EU against sesame, psyllium husk and brown flax seed shipped by an exporter. It was also charged with not identifying the point of contamination with the ETO levels being as high as 24 mg/kg against the norm of 0.1 mg/kg. Organic consignments cleared by CU Inspections India Ltd were found to have received nine EU notifications, particularly for shipments by two exporters. APEDA said though the agency found the measures for sourcing by the exporters insufficient, it failed to report this in the annual inspections.

ECOCERT was found responsible for four notifications of irregularities from the EU in the case of one exporter. Though it found high risk of cross contamination with conventional products, it termed it as “minor” with regard to conforming to the norms. It had also failed to report the problem initially or in its annual inspection.

IndoCert, APEDA said, had cleared 13 shipments of sesame, amaranth and quinoa seed from two exporters that had received EU irregularity notifications. In one of the shipments, the ETO level was 11 mg/kg. The authority said the agency had failed to take sufficient measures to maintain the integrity of organic products and also report in the annual inspection.

Trade sources said APEDA seemed to have come down strongly on OneCert since over 25 complaints of irregularities had been received from the EU. They also called for a higher penalty so that the agencies would be more careful in clearing organic consignments in future.