Indian exporters of organic products have been hit by a double whammy of “variations” in ethylene oxide (ETO) testing and the need for separate certifications to export to the United States, the European Union and the United States. Canada.
The presence of more than 0.1 mg / kg of ethylene oxide, even in conventional products, is not accepted by the European Union, as the chemical is considered to be carcinogenic. Separate certifications for organic products are required since the United States terminated a unilateral agreement with the Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA) last year, while India has been negotiating pacts with Canada and the EU for some time.
ETO presence problem
In August of this year, organic turmeric producers, all members of the Sathyamangalam Organic Farmers’ Welfare Trust in Erode, Tamil Nadu, were surprised when their products were tested by an accredited certification body – Indocert – for a transaction certificate. , a proof that the product is organic, showed the presence of 0.11 mg / kg of ETO.
The certificate, required before each shipment, is sought by companies that buy products from farmers before processing and export. “It ensures end-to-end traceability. The results blocked our efforts to obtain the certificate, ”said SS Ramakrishanan, spokesperson for the trust.
ETO is currently a controversial issue as the EU bans its application to any product on the continent. As of April 1 of this year, more than a dozen shipments from India have been rejected for this reason.
“We were surprised by the results and examined it in another lab in Chennai. The results showed that the presence of ETO was within the prescribed limits. So we discussed the issue with the certification agency, ”Ramakrishnan said. The Sathyamangalam Trust had the producers’ products reviewed by the Chennai lab because a retired Spices Board scientist said lab results could be inconsistent.
Variation in results
Following the trust’s appeal, Indocert sent a new team and examined the turmeric grown on the farms of six producers, who wanted the transaction certificate. “The officials came, visited our farms and took samples in September. The results showed that the presence of ETO was less than 0.10 mg / kg, ”the spokesperson for the trust said.
While “variations” in the results have raised concerns, farmers in Sathyamangalam also point out that they had to spend extra money to test their products a second time. “The first time around, we were charged 40,000 to test our products as a unit. The second time, since we asked for individual tests, we had to spend 80,000, ”Ramakrishnan said.
“Testing is an ongoing process. We have reanalyzed samples from farmers in Sathyamangalam and the process is not yet complete. We have requested that the first sample be reanalyzed as well. ETO is considered a high risk presence by the EU. Especially spice exporters are facing this problem, ”said Bini Varghese, Quality Manager of Indocert.
Inconsistencies in EU standards
Sources from the Spice Council said Activity area that ETO has been detected in old samples and that measures are taken to ensure that such contamination does not recur. For its part, the Spices Board says there are “inconsistencies” even in the EU procedure.
While the EU has prescribed a limit of 0.10 mg / kg, the US limit is 947 mg / kg, sources said.
When contacted, APEDA President Mr Angamuthu said the Spice Council had signaled the possibility of a natural occurrence of ETO in some products that could lead to detection at any level. “It is not sure that this has been scientifically validated or accepted by the EU,” he said.
Regarding the discrepancies in the results, he said that the quality division of the certification agency can be asked to take care of it for the analysis of organic products. ETO was found to be applied at the processing or handling stage of the products.
“ETO contamination could have occurred due to active application, cross contamination or a natural event,” he said. In India, ETO is not yet on the Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee’s watchlist to seek certification of organic products.
“A lot of materials release ETO. It is released during the ripening of citrus fruits. This is one of the reasons why many customers in the EU insist on steam sterilization of products, ”said Mukesh Gupta, director of Morarka Organic Foods Ltd.
On variations in the results, he said they depend on the sophistication of the laboratories.
“Our argument is that ETO is a new problem that has arisen. Laboratory tests have not been standardized. This is the need of the hour, ”said Ramakrishnan.
Another grouse from organic growers is the additional payment they now have to get to get certified. “Until last year, we had to make a single payment for the National Organic Production Program (NPOP) and the National Organic Program (NOP). Now we have to make separate payments, ”Ramakrishnan said.
NOP certification fees
NPOP certification is issued for accreditation in India and NOP for overseas exports, especially to the United States. Until last year, farmers spent 50,000 on both certifications. “For our group of 15 farmers, we have to pay an additional 1.25 lakh for NOP certification,” Ramakrishnan said.
Certification agencies say the additional payment is required as agencies accredited by developed countries such as the United States must now approve the process. Indian agencies have partnered with accredited foreign companies for this process, in which their staff visit organic farms.
“It takes at least two years to get accreditation from the US Department of Agriculture for organic certification. We have to spend at least three lakh, ”said Varghese of Indocert.
“The dual certification process also involves additional documentation which adds to our costs,” Gupta said.
Angamuthu of APEDA said the Indian government was following up with the USDA for “bilateral or mutual recognition which limits India because it requires additional certification.” Negotiations are underway with Canada and the EU.
Negotiations with Canada have been ongoing since 2009 and the two countries have not been able to reach consensus. The EU signaled its “will” in 2019 and the two countries are holding grips. “But it involves a described procedure which can take time,” he said.
Business analysts said the Indian government should take immediate action to address both of these issues as they involve significant expenses for producers.
(With additional contributions from V Sajeev Kumar, Kochi)