Many of our customers have been writing in, asking about the recent story claiming that 30% of vegetables sold as organic in the capital are in fact not. As a growing enterprise, selling organic produce, we felt it as our responsibility to address the issue of authenticity and trust. Through this post I would like to share with our customers and readers, the processes we follow at I Say Organic, to ensure that vegetables we supply are truly 100% organic.
Firstly, I’d like to mention that the report is in fact, a little misleading. It claims that 30% of organic vegetables in Delhi have pesticide residues, but only points to testing the produce from one store. It would be wrong to apply the findings from one store to vegetables sold by all organic stores. The concerned store mentioned in the report has also clarified that this was not intentional, and in fact the farmers who they source these vegetables from are certified organic.
At I Say Organic, we decided right at the onset that as a retailer we have a huge responsibility to ensure the products we sell are authentic to our claims. We have stayed away from the debate of who is responsible to ensure the organic nature of the produce – the retailer, the certification agency, or the farmers – and have added our layer of due diligence on top of certification. However, this does not mean that certification is not important to us. We do prefer that the farmer groups we source from are certified, but also recognize that certification is not foolproof – as this news report clearly points out.
That’s why we take the following steps to make sure our products are 100% organic:
1) Before we partner with a new group of farmers, our team visits the area and exclusively interacts with the farmers to understand their motivations to practice organic agriculture, visits their farms to understand their cropping patterns and how they prepare various inputs and manures.
2) The team also has extensive discussions with local partners (lead farmers, NGO’s, or farmer collective representatives) and their field workers to ensure that the organizations also do their level of due diligence over and above certification. Local involvement is key, as people in the same rural area are well aware of how genuine an organic farmer is!
3) Based on this, we identify specifically which farmers we want to work with. The local partners work hard with us to ensure that only the most genuine farmers are selected.
4) Certification is also maintained for all the farmers we source from. I will point out here that there are a few farmers we source from who are not certified (less than 5% of our products). These are farmers who are practicing organic individually and not part of a group, which makes certification a lot more expensive, and affordability or economic viability are the primary reasons they don’t opt for it. The selection process for these farmers remains the same, and they are as authentic as our certified farmers.
5) Once we begin sourcing, our team continues to interact with these farmers on a weekly basis and visits them at least once, every quarter. Local partners ensure a visit to the farmers at least once every fortnight.
6) We also independently perform random residue testing on our products once every quarter. Staff from an accredited lab visits our warehouse and collects random samples, which are tested for pesticide residue. All our products have tested clean, and we have not found any residues to date! In case we ever do, our policy is to blacklist the farmers and stop supply of their products until an alternative source is found.
7) We are also setting up systems to maintain farm records from each geographical area, which will give us traceability to the exact farm for products in every lot. Currently, this has been implemented for our vegetable farmers and soon will be applied to all categories.
Principally, our responsibility is to our customers and we will go out of our way to ensure quality and authenticity for them, even if it is not our legal responsibility. I would like to point out, that the farmer group found to be the culprit in the recent tests is one that I had personally visited 3 years ago when I Say Organic was being set up. I have since remained highly doubtful of their practices, and so have my colleagues who visited them later. Therefore, we have never sourced from them despite their proximity to Delhi and their certified organic status. For us, this study is a validation of our selection process. But at the same time it is an indication that we must keep strengthening our selection and monitoring processes.
Despite the recent concerns about the honesty of certain organic producers, there’s no question that going organic is better for your health and safety. In too many cases, conventional crops are being grown irresponsibly, without sufficient oversight, and could pose a threat to people’s health. A recent JNU study found over 20 banned pesticides in large quantities on randomly sampled foods in the Delhi-NCR area. According to the study, consuming foods treated with these pesticides could pose a substantial risk of cancer and other health problems, especially for children. With verified, honestly organic food like the products sold here at I Say Organic, you can be sure the food you and your children are eating is free of pesticides and chemicals, leaving nothing but the taste and nutrition you expect and deserve.
For any organization building trust among its community is of great importance. I understand that many of you would be apprehensive after reading this news story, and hope that I have been able to reassure you. If you have any further questions or concerns, please comment on this post, or else reach us through facebook, twitter, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org