Everything You Need To Know About Being Organic
The term organic has been creating a buzz for the last few years and the demand for organic products has been steadily increasing. But what is organic really or what does organic mean? How do you ascertain that something is truly or authentically organic? Why is organic more expensive? All these questions will be answered here. Here is everything you need to know about being organic, organic food, organic farming and more!
What Is Organic?
Let’s get the definition of organic out of way first. Organic can refer to natural ingredients or materials used in food, skin care or clothes and it can also refer to organic food production or the organic way of life. Being organic essentially means growing food, materials or ingredients in a way as to ensure healthy soil and environmental sustainability. Anything organic is essentially produced without the use of any artificial or chemical substances and in as natural an environment as possible. But being in the food industry, we are going to focus specifically on organic food products and what it means to be organic in this space.
What Is The Process For Organic Food?
For food products to be organic, they need to be grown under a system of agriculture without the use of herbicides, artificial pesticides, or any chemical fertilisers and with an environmentally and socially responsible approach. The latter is a highly crucial element in the organic practices of the modern world.
Organic is the most highly regulated food system in the world. The process of being organic is not instantaneous. At a farm level, organic food needs to be grown on virgin land i.e. land not previously used for any kind of cultivation or land which has only grown food organically. If the land does not meet this criteria then there is a process of conversion.
Farms and plantations that have previously used chemicals, pesticides or non-organic fertilisers require anywhere between 24-36 months, depending on crop type, to ensure there is no trace of these products in the soil and the plant or tree. Farms or plantations that are in the transition phase to certified organic are referred to as ‘organic in-conversion’.
Similarly, manufacturing, processing, packaging, storing, trading and distribution of such organic food products or any products made using organically grown food and carrying the label ‘organic’ has to follow a strict set of parameters to ensure that the food is handled properly, safely and without compromising on the organic quality of nature.
What Is The Difference Between In-conversion And Certified Organic Farms?
As mentioned above, it takes several years for all traces of chemicals, pesticides and non-organic fertilisers to be completely removed from the farm. Hence, the farms which intend to be organic have a 2-3 year waiting period which is called ‘organic in-conversion’ until they can be certified organic. After satisfying all organic standards in the due in-conversion period they will have to undergo testing to ensure no residue remains. After satisfying all parameters, which will be audited by an authorised, independent control body, they will be certified organic.
It doesn’t end there.
Farms are audited and inspected annually, which also includes random testing as directed by the auditor. Farms can be demoted back to in-conversion if non-conformities are found. Sometimes, they can be demoted all the way back to year one depending on the intensity of transgression. Hence, once certified doesn’t mean it’s always certified. It’s a continuous process and it ensures that standards are met all throughout the desired duration of being organic.
Organic Certifications Don’t Happen At Only Farm Level.
When it comes to organic food products, every aspect of the supply chain from procurement to distribution needs to maintain respective organic standards.
Factories or industries which process organic food products, need to be certified at a processing level. Traders providing organic food supply need to meet the necessary standards at a trading level.
The parameters and standards will differ based on the nature of work and how it affects handling of the organic produce in question.
What Are The Various Parameters Under Consideration For Organic Certification?
At farm level, growing conditions need to meet all organic standards.
At procurement level, handling and transport of organic goods, maintaining records, traceability and other factors are involved.
At processing level, the right way of handling organic food from machinery and equipment used to process levels and standards such as storage and packing are taken into consideration.
Storage is an important factor as well. Organic food products should not mingle with other non-organic substances or come into contact with any form of chemical even in the form of fumigants or cleaning products.
The packaging is also inspected and audited. To make certified organic products distinguishable in the market, the packaging and labelling are verified and approved by auditors to hold certain information and identifiable organic logos.
Labelling is also a crucial factor, certified organic produce is marked with certain labels and standardisation that make it easy for customers to differentiate organic products from others.
Sample testing is also an important component. A random sample is usually taken and tested by a third party accredited laboratory to ensure that there are no traces of non-organic contaminants in the product.
This is only an overview, the actual process of getting certified organic and maintaining it is a rather elaborate process. There are multiple steps, compliances to follow and numerous levels of documentation involved in each of these stages.
But, it is still important to at least have a general understanding of the process.
The more aware and knowledgeable we are, the better and more conscious choices we can make. We can also ensure that companies do their due diligence and they will do so if they know their customers are aware and vigilant. It is also helpful to processors and traders who follow due process and compliance and makes them stand out from the crowd. Companies that masquerade as organic while not following standards can be held accountable, ensuring that both consumers and authentic organic merchants benefit.
Now that you have an overview of the process, here are some common or frequently asked questions about organic.
Do You Pay For Being Certified Organic?
Unfortunately, being organic, especially in India, doesn’t come without a cost. Since the process is laborious, elaborate and requires third party validation, there are expenses associated with. Some of these expenses include:
Lab testing costs
Certificate and test fees
Depending on the size of the organic project the costs are proportional.
Why Is Organic Food So Expensive?
Universally, organic food is significantly more expensive than non-organic food. This is for multiple reasons, which include but are not limited to the following:
Land used for growing the produce plays a role. Getting virgin lands (as mentioned earlier in this article) might be difficult so a conversion of land from non-organic to organic needs to take place. This process will incur its own costs.
Organic food is grown under natural conditions and any product is obtained entirely as nature intended. It is often cheaper to spray pesticide or use chemical fertilisers to facilitate growth or drive away pests that destroy the produce than to use organic methods. Non-organic food products can be sourced cheaper or made to grow in conditions that artificially boost growth.
For foods that are processed using multiple ingredients, sourcing non-organic ingredients is easier and cheaper than their organic alternatives.
Getting organic certifications involves compliances, procedures, inspections and audits that come at an additional cost.
A premium price is paid to farmers for growing organic food which is higher than the rates offered to their conventionally grown products or counterparts.
What Is Organic Premium?
Organic premium is the difference in price between organic and conventional (non-organic) products. Owing to the various costs involved in organic farming and certifications, a premium is paid to the organic farmer as well.
Is Organic Food Better For Us?
There are multiple benefits to organic food. Without a doubt, truly organic food is better for us in terms of health. This is because they contain no chemicals, pesticides, or non-organic fertilisers and are grown in more natural conditions. In a broader sense, going organic is also beneficial for the environment and reduces pollution as no chemical contaminants leach into soil, water or air. Organic farming is also ecologically sustainable as they allow birds, animals, insects and other organisms in the farm and forest areas to thrive in natural conditions.
How Do We Know If A Product Is Certified Organic?
Certified organic food products will have certain distinguishing logos depending on the country. In India, you can look for organic food packaging with logos of “Jaivik Bharat”, “USDA Organic” or “India Organic” and the logo of the independent organic certifying body. There are multiple certified third party organic auditors and this may differ from company to company. All these logos on a product package ensures complete transparency and conformity to organic standards. The image below gives a good indication of the different logos to identify on your organic food packaging.
What Does Organic Certification Mean?
When you purchase a certified organic product, you can be assured that your food has gone through multiple checks at various levels to ensure its organic integrity. These certified organic products are also checked and verified by certified independent third party auditors. This means it’s not just the company or supplier saying ‘take our word for it’, it means that there is external validation to the fact that the product is genuinely organic.
Let’s Talk About Organic Cashews
Since we are all about cashews let’s talk about what it means to be certified organic specific to cashew. The AchalOrg Certified Organic Cashew Nuts Project is a farm to fork project, which means that we are certified organic for cashew nuts at farm, process, storage, packing and trading levels - the whole works.
The entire project is owned by us which means it is traceable and verifiable down to each raw nut and each cashew kernel that comes from it. We work with 6000+ independent farmers from Goa and Maharashtra regions who supply us with their raw cashew nuts. Since the project started in 1996, we have been training farmers on what it means to be organic and how they can implement it. Their audit and inspection costs are borne by us. This has slowly grown to include over 6000 farmers in the last 25 years. This is currently the biggest organic cashew project in India.
We also process the cashews in our own factory units. Here we take meticulous care to comply with all the standards for organic cashew processing, packing and distribution. So, any AchalOrg organic cashew comes with the guarantee that it is truly 100% organic and 100% Indian.
How Long Does It Take For Cashew Farms To Be Certified Organic?
It takes three years for a cashew farm to be certified organic. Cashew farms have three conversion years referred to as IC1, IC2 and IC3. After successfully completing IC3, they get certified organic.
What Happens If A Cashew Farmer In Your Project Is Found To Be Not Organic?
Audits and inspections take place annually. If any farmer is found to be not complying with organic standards, based on the severity of the non-conformity, his farm may be demoted to any of the three in-conversion stages. The raw cashew nuts obtained from these farms are marked and stored separately as in-conversion and are not mixed with or processed along with other organic raw cashew nuts. In cases of repeated offences or severe non-conformities, a farm or farmer may be removed from the organic project. Such farmers can sell their raw cashew nuts at conventional rates and will forego their organic premium.
Are There Third Party Auditors Or Control Bodies For Your Organic Cashew Project?
IMO Control India Private Limited based in Bangalore is AchalOrg’s control body. They conduct inspections and audits right from our farms to the processing areas, to ensure there are no traces of chemicals in your organic cashews.
How Are Organic Cashews Different From Conventional Ones?
Just like any other organic food product, organic cashews are a healthier choice over their conventional counterparts. They are also more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Our AchalOrg Certified Organic Cashew Project is also involved in numerous community development and fair trade activities. Some of our projects include but are not limited to:
Training programme for farmers
Providing farming aids and access to nurseries or new saplings for biodiversity as well as diversifying their crops
Supporting extracurricular activities in local schools where the children learn about organic farming practices and its benefits.
How Do I Know If Your Cashews Are Organic?
Your packet of AchalOrg certified organic cashews will have the logos of Jaivik Bharat, NPOP [National Programme for Organic Production], and IMO Control Private Limited, the independent organic certifying body for AchalOrg. These are the logos needed as per Indian regulations for ensuring our cashews are truly organic cashews. Additionally, we are certified in BioSuisse [Swiss organic certification], JAS [Japanese organic certification], KOR [Korean organic certification], NOP [US organic certification] and EU [European Union organic certification] for our respective organic cashew exports.
Get Your Daily Dose Of Organic
Now that you know more about the organic process and what goes behind ensuring that you get healthy, organic food, do look for this information when you make a purchase. This will ensure that you are making a truly conscious choice and you will benefit yourself and the organic farmers and processors who have put in a lot of work to ensure you get the best product. The power is always in the hands of the consumer, and we know you will choose well.