Monday, June 14, 2010


The ISO system of food quality management became a watch word for many industry to strive to get accreditation which gave them an image make over and a cover to hide some of their deficiencies. While having an ISO certification can make a difference in export business, very few Indians seem to have bothered about such a stamp knowing well their irrelevance under the conditions prevailing in the country. When ISO certification can be obtained easily even for public toilets, how can an ordinary consumer feel assured by products from such "stamped" companies. Same is true with organic foods production and marketing. While the present certification procedures are simple and affordable, the proposed changes to make it more stringent, time consuming, document oriented may defeat the very purpose of the program.

"If the marketing agreement were to go national this year under the Department of Agriculture, it would have similar provisions to a food-safety bill now being considered in the U.S. Senate. Brought forward by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the bill addresses food safety across the board — not solely for leafy greens. Although the impact of the California marketing agreement on food safety is still in question, the impact on small-scale and organic farmers is indisputable. "The financial costs are gigantic," said Roger Medina, food-safety manager at Lakeside Organic Farms. One significant added cost, he said, is the labor-intensive process of implementing the regulations. "It is documentation, documentation, documentation," Medina said. "The documentation has gone from make sure you have a plan, to make sure you document every sneeze, every cigarette butt you find out there." But this is not the only cost that farmers have to bear. According to the Small Farm Center, a Santa Cruz institute that researches the needs of small and moderate scale farms, farmers are losing up to 2 percent of their farmable acreage because they're required to have a buffer between crops and the surrounding environment. The center also reported that it cost about $11 per acre for some of those farmers to remove the surrounding vegetation, and about $17 per acre to put up fences to keep out wildlife. One analysis of the leafy green growers in California estimates that each farm now spends an average of $18,000 per year following the agreement, said Charlotte Vallaeys of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group based in Wisconsin".

Though the above diagnosis is based on the conditions prevailing in a country like the US, it applies equally all over the world. No doubt that there can be no compromise when it comes to consumer safety. But the cost-benefit balance must be factored into any practical system of surveillance which should be equitable to the producer as well as the consumer. Closure of small producers due to financial affordability factor, making organic food costlier and pushing it beyond the reach of a major segment of the population can be self defeating. Irrespective of the controversy regarding the nutritional difference between normal and organically grown foods, fact still remains that latter is certainly safer, especially for growing children.


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