Friday, October 26, 2012


Organic foods ,which have provided big relief to millions of consumers world over who are concerned about the healthiness and safety of commercially grown and processed food products, seem to be heading for uncertain days if attempts by some of the biggest names in food industry succeed in hijacking the business through devious means as being reported. The movement which started in a small way two decades ago has become synonymous with providing safe foods to the children as well as population requiring reassurance that food they consume is safe. Every school child knows about the advantages of organic food and why it costs more than the market foods offered by the commercial players who seem to be getting more and more insensitive to the well being of consumers, obviously in pursuit of unlimited profits. Organic food industry owes its growth to mindless practices of the conventional industry such as massive use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, synthetic chemical additives, many preservatives with doubtful safety credentials and above all the aggressive inroad of genetically modified food ingredients into main stream industry. What will be the impact of large food industry giants taking over smaller players through their unlimited financial resources?

The foundation for successful promotion and marketing of organic foods was the reliable certification system that guarantees the consumer that these products are grown and processed differently and can be depended upon for safeguarding health. There are many certification agencies which have the license to assess the food growing and processing facilities as per national or international standards and provide the certification. Generally the standards lay down a set of production parameters for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping. Most important features of these standards include non-use of human sewage sullage for irrigation, avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs at any stage, cultivating only in lands free from traces of chemical substances, elaborate and clear documentation of the practices followed and allowing periodic on-site inspection to ensure implementation of all guidelines prescribed. One of the reasons for limited growth of organic food industry is the increased cost incurred by the farmers and processors while conforming to the laid down standards. According to one estimate the organic food industry just accounts for less than 5% of the total food market globally. The stealthy entry of established large industry conglomerates into this sector may change the face of the organic food industry beyond recognition.

One of the flip sides of organic certification system is the exorbitant cost involved in getting the coveted recognition from the governments involving rigorous steps and considerable time which are not affordable to many small scale players. This is working in favor of large producers and global food giants who have deep pockets to "manage" the system. Realizing such limitations small growers have formed their own association which provides them with a different type of certification almost synonymous with that of organic foods. Such foods carry the declaration "Certified Naturally Grown", though consumers still seem to be preferring the organic food certification. Interestingly new variants of organic food certification are now being recognized in the US, probably to oblige the large industry which finds it difficult to adhere to strict standards imposed for pure organic foods. Here there are 100% organic, 95% organic and 70% organic versions permitting some relaxation in the standards in the latter two cases. It is difficult for any consumer to comprehend why there should be any organic food in the market at all if it is not 100% organically produced! Probably this is one of the consequences of the entry of big fish into this sector which was an exclusive preserve of small enterprises as government appears to be bending backwards to oblige the former by diluting the standards.

Recent developments in the US where organic food industry is worth about $ 30 billion, do not give any hope that organic foods as seen to day will survive for another decade because of large scale devouring of small producers by the large players through enormous money clout. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is the governing body which oversees development of standards and once approved by the US government become industry standards. According to one report approval of many non-organic chemicals for use in organic foods is a sure sign of the diminishing value of the certified organic food which suits the large players. While there were only 77 essential non-organic chemicals such as baking powder, allowed for use in organic products in 2002, to day that number has bloated up to more than 250! Most recent additions like the controversial carrageenan ( doubtful safety credentials) and synthetic Inositol are examples of mindless tampering of the standards and as the NOSB is overwhelmingly staffed with representatives and sympathizers of big industry, such approvals are easy to come by.

The million dollar question is what is the role of US government in ensuring the integrity of organic food certification system that is in vogue in the country and there is a lingering suspicion that the well organized processed food industry is having enormous influence on the government in modifying many standards. However in defense of the government it must be stated that the list of organic foods seeking certification have expanded exponentially and the list of permitted non-organic ingredients must reflect that development necessitating additions from time to time. Besides the NOSB never had more than 30% representation from organized big players while government is still calling the shots. Probably a better approach to prevent developing monopoly in organic foods market by a few players can be prevented through more realistic policy orchestration like preserving it for small and medium players thus automatically precluding any undue influence from the Goliaths of food business.    



Business Research said...

Organic food contains higher no. of important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.It provides more health benefits than conventional food.As a result,demand of organic food goes on increasing day by day..Organic food shows high prices level due to the fact that,organic farmers are getting lower yield per acre due to non-use of pesticide and fertilizers..very informative post shared here.I appreciate for this great writing

Organic Food Products said...

Very informative post, thanks for sharing..keep posting more updates