UPDATED on 22 February 2017: Updated to post reply received from Organic Tattva
Grahak Sathi, a National Consumer Magazine in Hindi, published by the Ahmedabad-based Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC), Ahmedabad, has released the findings of its in-house comparative product-testing laboratory on seven brands of organic rice. The findings revealed that six out of seven brands had pesticide residues and all seven brands contained toxic heavy metals. The very rationale of buying an organic product is to ensure it is pesticide-free.
The brands carried a variety of logos and certifications from national and international agencies. This is confusing for consumers. Why should a product meant for the domestic market carry so many international logos?
The three heavy metals tested for in the products were lead, copper and arsenic. “We tested the products for 16 pesticides. The four pesticides detected belonged to the organophosphate group,” says the report.
Six of the seven brands of organic rice contained pesticide residues. Fabindia Organics did not have pesticide residues. Two brands, Organic on Call and Sanjeevani Organics, had Chlorpyrifos levels above the prescribed limit. Two of the four non-organic rice brands had pesticide residues.
Over a long duration even microscopic quantities of pesticides can be harmful. The pesticides detected by the tests are not in the US list of pesticides permitted in organic products.
All the organic rice brands showed presence of all three heavy metals, though they were within the prescribed limits. None of the non-organic rice brands had arsenic. Copper levels were higher than in organic rice brands, though within limits. Lead levels were within limits and slightly lower than that in the organic rice brands.
Organic rice brands are much costlier than ordinary brands. Comparing the extremes, you would be paying more than five times the price for the costliest organic rice brand –Fabindia Organics – than you would for the cheapest non-organic rice brand – Hypercity.
Most organic rice brands claimed to be free of pesticides. Morarka Organic’s Down to Earth, which contained both pesticide residues and toxic heavy metals, claimed to be: “…free from chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, toxic substances, synthetic hormones…” Two organic rice brands – Vikalp Organic Product and Organic on Call – did not have any organic certification.
As a policy, the laboratory conveys the test results to manufacturers. It received the following responses:
Sanjeevani Organics said that organic certification was done for the practices and processes, and not for the products. But consumers are concerned not with processes and practices but with the end product. Certification for processes must reflect in quality of final product.
24 Mantra Organic said that the pesticide detected by the tests, Chlorfenvinphos, was not used even in conventional paddy cultivation and not available in their project area.
Organic Tattva said that as per the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) guidelines there is no requirement for testing for heavy metals for organic products. While this is true, CERC says “we have tested for them as consumers should be concerned about their presence in foods. Heavy metals accumulate in the human body over a period of time and cause harm.”
CERC has urged that the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) should set specific mandatory standards for organic foods. “In response to our appeal over a year ago, we received a letter from Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) saying that BIS has constituted a committee to formulate standards for organic foods. However, no concrete action has been taken as yet,” says CERC.
It also argues that National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) certification should be made mandatory. NPOP, which currently certifies organic process standards, should also certify the final product. Also, India needs to follow labelling norms as per global best practices. Regular monitoring of organic food quality, including that sold online, is necessary and advertising claims made by organic product manufacturers should be closely monitored.
Grahak Sathi’s conclusion is that “organic brands of rice are not safer than non-organic ones. There is no concrete evidence that organic food has higher nutritional value than regular food. Also, organic rice brands are much more expensive. Our advice is not to buy organic rice. People want to make healthier choices and the Government must support them in this matter. It should ensure that consumers do not get exploited in the name of organic foods. It is vital that the regulatory authorities set standards and closely monitor the quality of organic food products.”
In good faith, we have changed the photo in this article. We have sent emails to CERC, which is one of India's leading consumer organisations with its own testing laboratories, and the one on whose findings this article is based. CERC is supported and recognised by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. It has been doing such product testing for decades.
We will take further action on the article when we hear from CERC.
Here is an email we received from Kriti Mehrotra of Organic Tattva...
"There is no proof in this article that shows that we are manufacturing food not fit for consumers. We had received an email from Ms. Mehta few months ago where she told us that when she tested our products, there were no traces of Pesticides, however there were traces of Heavy metals, which were within the FSSAI limits. That being said, there was no need to put our Brand name and logo on this article, when we are following all government norms. Since the publication of this article, we are getting calls from consumers and retailers and its not right that we have to answer to this, when our company follows all food safety and APEDA guidelines."