Tested organic food coming on your plate, courtesy govt

In 2022-23, Indian farmers produced 2.9 million tonnes of certified organic produce which includes food grains, oilseeds, perishables, cotton and tea. (File Photo: Mint)
In 2022-23, Indian farmers produced 2.9 million tonnes of certified organic produce which includes food grains, oilseeds, perishables, cotton and tea. (File Photo: Mint)

Summary

  • This comes as a response to the rapid expansion of India's organic food market and the current limited capacity for testing organic products

New Delhi: To enhance the quality of organic food available in the domestic market and ensure better pricing for farmers, the Centre plans to invest about 105 crore to add organic food testing capabilities to two dozen central and state-owned testing labs, two people aware of the development said.

Another 66 government-owned labs will be upgraded to handle organic food testing by India’s food regulator, the people said.

The move comes as India’s organic food market rapidly expands, and considering the current limited capacity for testing organic products, one of the persons cited above said on condition of anonymity.

As of 1 January, an estimated 67 labs are equipped to handle organic food testing and certification. These are mostly privately owned and affiliated to APEDA (agricultural & processed food products export development authority). The APEDA and the government aren’t satisfied with the private labs’ testing outcomes, prompting the move to upgrade government-owned labs.

The country’s apex certification body for testing standards, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) under the ministry of consumer affairs, plans to fund institutes of states and the central government to upgrade their food testing labs.

The programme will be implemented in partnership with Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), and over 90 labs are expected to be ready for organic products’ testing in the next three months, said the other person, who also requested not to be named.

Financial and technological support will be extended to research institutes’ food labs, including those affiliated with the BIS, the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the National Test House (NTH), and more.

Funds will be provided to laboratories in Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Haryana, encompassing 12 state labs and 12 central research institute labs. The other 66 labs will be upgraded by FSSAI.

The BIS has greenlit the proposal to procure advanced equipment for these labs, said the first person cited above.

Queries sent to BIS director general, secretary, spokesperson of the consumer affairs ministry, and chief executive of FSSAI remained unanswered till press time.

“Recently, APEDA banned some private agencies for their involvement in unethical practices," said Siraj Hussain, former agriculture secretary. “So, it will be a good move by BIS and FSSAI for setting up their own labs for organic products. This will increase consumer confidence in organic products."

India has the highest number of farmers practising organic farming—4.43 million as per Economic Survey 2022-23—in the world. Indian farmers produced 2.9 million tonnes of certified organic produce in 2022-23, which include food grains, oilseeds, perishables, cotton and tea.

India exported 5,525 crore worth of organic produce in 2022-23, significantly higher than the estimated domestic sales. Domestic consumption of organic food products remains limited due to steep prices, which are driven by retail outlets demanding high margins, and costs incurred towards certification.

Primary exporting destinations for India’s organic food products include the US, the EU, Canada, the UK, and Switzerland, among others.

India’s total area under organic produce was 10.17 million hectares in 2022-23, according to APEDA. Among states, Madhya Pradesh is the top producer of organic food products, followed by Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Odisha.

Globally, Australia has the largest area under organic agriculture (36 million hectares), according to the World of Organic Agriculture report 2021.

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