Organic can be Non-Veg

In 2015 Sikkim became entirely organic by converting 75,000 hectacres of agricultural land into certified organic farms following the guidelines as prescribed by National Programme for Organic Production. (The decision was taken in 2003 after which the use and sale of chemical fertilisers was restricted.) However 1995 to 2013 saw a steady decline in the state’s food grain production except for maize which is more a feed than food grain, so it remains to be seen if organic farming will eventually prove to be a boon or bane for the state. By 2016, 66,000 farmers had shunned chemical weed killers, synthetic fertilisers and gene-altered seeds. They seep medicinal leaves in cow urine and spray it to repel pests. In fact, India has 6,50,000 organic producers, more than any other country, and the rewards aren’t just monetary.

In 2018 Sikkim went ahead with the second phase of its plan to become fully organic by banning the entry and sale of 40-odd non-organic horticultural and agricultural products. Therefore in April 2018 around 10 metric tonnes of non-organic vegetables were seized and dumped. However, items such as rice and potatoes are still off the organic list since the state can not produce enough to meet the demand.

It therefore came as a pleasant surprise to read that Sikkim had won the Future Policy Award 2018 (“Oscar for best policies) conferred by the Food and Agriculture Organisation for the world’s best policies promoting agro-ecological and sustainable food systems beating 51 nominated policies from 25 countries.

Not only have Sikkim’s 66,000 families benefited but thanks to turning organic there has been an increase of 50% tourists between 2014 and 2017.

With an aim to end chemical farming, Karnataka was the first state to get an organic farming policy in 2004. The area under organic certification in 2004 was 2,500 hectares only, but by 2018 it increased to over 1 lakh hectares, and the certified production to 3 lakh tonnes. The state has declared 576 villages as organic and around 15 organic farmer federations exist.

Kerala is also aiming to turn fully organic. It began with a group of farmers in Kuruvai village, Palakkad, successfully growing paddy without pesticides. They were praised by the United Nations for getting a 30% yield.

Many farms in other parts of India like Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are also turning organic. For producing crops they use no synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, hormone in the feeds and to the maximum extent feasible rely on crop rotation, crop residue, animal manure and off-farm organic waste (may be by product of poultry farm), mineral grade rock additives and biological system of nutrients and plant protection. Unfortunately, some organic farms that house desi Gir cows that are usually fed exotic herbs in addition to greens and grain, sell milk and milk products; and, they also raise poultry in the same manner only to kill them and sell them as organic chickens.

The word “organic” is used to describe many products and processes. To be certified organic, food products need to come from farms and processing plants that are certified as organic. Some times organic is defined as produce that has no toxic impact on people and the environment.

A growing number of people are going in for more expensive organic produce because they feel it is healthier, safer and that they are doing their bit to help the environment. In fact there is a call to oppose eco-terrorism by eating organic foods and conserving water! But unfortunately according to a study undertaken under the auspices of the Washington State University, there is little scientific evidence that organic crops are more nutritious than those produced by conventional means because contamination with bacteria-laden animal faeces is also a problem. It could of course be solved by washing vegetables or what ever thoroughly.

All other foods contain residues of pesticides, fertilizers and other harmful chemicals; and their use in fields result in the death many lives such as insects, rodents and reptiles. For example, in April 2011 more than 100 migratory birds died in Jorhat district, Assam, after consuming paddy laced with pesticides.

Few realise that “organic” may be “eco-friendly” but these words are not always synonymous with “plant-derived”. Organic meat is perceived to be the ultimate betrayal.

Anything derived from animal or plant organisms is termed organic, and since it is natural and not produced in a lab, is presumed to be safe, beneficial and good. Animal ingredients are never taken into account when certifying products as organic.

Believe it or not, in 2015 some farmers of Andhra Pradesh began spraying oxytocin (a harmful animal hormone) on their standing paddy crops to save them against drought. That’s when it came to light that oxytocin was being used not only to increase milk yield of milch cattle (which was also illegal) but also to artificially promote or pump up the growth of fruits and vegetables. In fact, the Hyderabad High Court had come down heavily on the practice including the use of calcium carbide as a ripening agent.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals raised on organic feed, given no antibiotics, growth hormones, etc, and are said to receive kindness culminating in so-called “humane” slaughter (sic).

Organic Crops

Organic agriculture is related to health, ecology, fairness and care. The Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) and the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) are the two certifications issued by government for organic food products.

and Beejamrut are natural farming fertilisers and are considered superior to organic farming practices. The basic formula is: 50 kgs desi cow dung, 40 litres desi cow urine, 10 kgs gram flour, 10 kgs jaggery, and 4 kgs mud taken from under a banyan tree.

Organic crops are grown without the use of hazardous chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives which actively kill not only unwanted insects but larger lives too. Fallen leaves that turn into fertiliser are utilised instead, but so are animal manure, blood, bone, worms, and poultry or fish wastes. Since chemicals are not used, the yield is not high thus making production costs rise.

Earthworms have always been referred to as farmers’ friends because they turn wastelands into wonderlands. Vermi-compost is produced by worms that decompose food and other wastes and is utilised by many people in their gardens.

In 2012 two Indian scientists reported that three species of earthworms could successfully be used to extract toxic heavy metals, including cadmium and lead, from municipal solid waste. These worms eat organic matter along with soil that contains the metals. They excrete the soil, but absorb the heavy metals up to ten times their body weight which are then broken down by enzymes in their bodies.

Earlier, with help from the US Department of Agriculture, scientists at the National Bureau of Agriculturally Important Insects, Hebbal, Bengaluru, bred vast numbers of parasitoids (from Puerto Rico) which successfully performed in six months the biological role of eliminating the mealybug pest (which probably came into India from Vietnam or Malaysia along with papaya fruit or seeds in 2008) that was by 2012 playing havoc with 86 of the country’s fruit and other agri-crops.

In 2019 the College of Agriculture, Pune, stated that about 45% of crop losses were on account of infestation by pests resistant to pesticides and insecticides and the collapse of the insect biodiversity because natural predators that consumed harmful pests were fast disappearing. For example populations of praying mantis, dragonfly, beetles and honey bee populations were fast dwindling. In view of this five species of bio-pests were being cultivated in the college labs – in other words pest vs. pest would supplement organic farming practices.

Organic and Animal Derived

Leather, wool, silk, feathers, hair, blood, bone, animal waste and fish oils are some organic substances abundantly found in foods, garments, household goods and end products produced using processes involving such animal substances.

A few examples:

Organic leather is from a slaughtered cow that was organically raised, and the hide tanned with eco-friendly substances, not with chemicals.

Organic flooring means natural wood (very likely from a forest) and stone and is often termed eco-green.

Organic mattresses are made from wool or cotton. Similarly linen can be of organically grown cotton, and bamboo fabric could be mixed with silk which is as organic as it can get.

Organic paints are termed non-toxic and could contain milk protein, lime/choona or fish oils. They are usually pigmented with clays and minerals.

Organic calcium utilised in Allopathy, Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homeopathy products is derived from the shells of killed marine animals.

The latest is growing organic vegetables and fruit in aquaponics which is a soil-less system in which plants and fish are grown in separate inter-connected tanks. The fish poop is mixed with water and the slurry pumped to the plants which grow in trays that are layered with pebble-shaped expandable clay material. Aquaponics is similar to hydroponics but with the addition of fish culture.

It would therefore be wise for animal activists to keenly look out for animal ingredients before purchasing any thing marked “organic”.

Organic Produce Fails Pesticide Testing by IARI

On 4 November 2014 the agro-sector watch-dog, Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI) came out with a report “Myths vs. Facts: Organic Farming”. They declared that many organic foods that were tested contained more pesticides than those conventionally grown with pesticides. Farmers had openly admitted that although they used neem, dhatura, bhang in buttermilk, hing and turmeric in water while irrigating their fields, they also used pesticides and fertilisers and felt chemicals could not be eliminated if they were to survive.

The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) had extensively tested samples of certified organic vegetables sold in popular organic outlets in Delhi and found 33% contained various pesticide residues. A similar study by them, involving 92,000 samples of conventional fruits and vegetables showed only 1.8% to be carrying pesticide residues. This clearly proved widespread application of pesticides in so-called organic farming, and that there was no control whatsoever on deceptive “organic” marketing.

Moreover, CCFI feels the National Project on Organic Farming has manipulated data on organic farming as a result of which the Government of India has lost a whopping Rs 2,500 crore due to bogus claims: Rs 10,000 per ha subsidy is given to organic farms. The XI plan (2007-12) recommended Rs 2,500 crore to convert 5 million ha farm lands into organic farming. But latest data shows that India has only 0.5 million ha under organic farming. Just 10% of what was planned. According to official data, India’s organic production has declined from 3.88 million tonnes in 2010-11 to 1.24 million tonnes in 2013-14. Apparently there is no explanation given by government agencies for this drastic decline. In fact CCFI feel a detailed analysis of data produced by the National Project on Organic Farming (NPOF was set up by the Government of India in 2004 with an initial outlay of Rs 57 crore and continues with substantially enhanced budgets) on progress in India brings out deep and wide-spread data fraud in the implementation of organic farming schemes.

In short, the high-cost organic food industry is plagued with issues such as low productivity and fabricated data.

CCFI has issued a legal notice to Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) because of serious violation by organic brands flouting the FSSAI Act, but till March 2015 no action had been taken by them against the violators.

Cheating is on the rise and even though consumers pay a premium for organic products they do not get products that are truly organic as has been proved upon testing products different brands by Voice Society, a leading consumer organisation.

Natural Farming

Synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, nor genetic modified organisms are used. Farmers coat the seeds with materials like cow dung and ash (bio-stimulants), and plant a variety of crops in circles with minimal disturbance to the soil. Basically the soil is improved and thus productivity of diverse crops of different duration grown. It is therefore called ATM (Any Time Money) farming! And the productivity matches that of conventional farming.

Residue Free Farming

The practices used for Residue Free Farming fall in-between organic and conventional/chemical-based/intensive farming/agriculture practices. Despite stating “residue free” it does not mean the produce is free of pesticide traces, but that the level is below that which causes harm to humans. (It probably came into being because of the cheating mentioned above. Nevertheless, it does not live up to its name.)

Residue Free Farming utilises farmyard manure, drip irrigation, mulches for weed management, biocides and bio-fertilizers. Neem oil, garlic extract, water soluble chemical fertilisers like organophosphate used against larvae on leafy vegetables, and insect neurotoxin against sucking insects are sprayed to protect the crops. The bottom line is the appropriate gap (number of days vary for crops) between spraying and harvesting so that pesticide traces are minimised.

Jaivik Bharat and Vegan Logos

The Jaivik Bharat logo (in Hindi and English) is affixed on organic foods that are certified under the Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017, based on the standards of the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) implemented by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and Participatory Guarantee System (PGS-India) implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.

BWC wishes to point out that the Jaivik Bharat logo looks similar in style and colour to the international Vegan logo, Vegan OK logo, and some other vegan and vegetarian logos. But, their connotations are quite different.

Any thing derived from a plant or animal organism is termed organic. It may qualify as eco-friendly and could even be tested on animals. For example, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals being raised on organic feed, given no antibiotics, growth hormones, etc. and are said to receive kindness, culminating in so-called humane slaughter.

Vegan means containing no animal derived substances whatsoever. For example, no meat, fish, egg, milk, honey, silk, fur, feathers, pearls, corals, shells, shellac, etc. are part of the product, nor used in processing it, and the product has not been tested on animals.

Let it therefore be known that organic and vegan are two different ideologies that don’t always mesh. It should therefore not be forgotten that a food item that is marked organic may not be vegan.

Marks and Labels

The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) that falls under the Ministry of Commerce & Industry (Government of India) is the certifying authority for organic products under the National Standards for Organic Production. Organically farmed food products that are exported need to carry the India Organic mark since our assessment procedures of accreditation are recognised by importing countries. These standards are silent regarding use of animal substances and only require that products or raw materials used be grown through organic farming, without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or induced hormones. This re-confirms that “organic” products need not be totally plant derived.

Except for added water and salt, foods that are labelled “100% organic” must conform in respect of all ingredients and processes utilised. If labelled simply “organic” they must conform 95% and should not contain sulfites used as preservative which also applies to those foods that are labelled “made with organic ingredients” and need to conform 70% only. The last two categories are not entirely organic; neither are “organically pure” or “certified organic”.

Marks such as the Agmark and Ecomark, and certifications such as those by ISO, ISI (BIS), AIFOF, and GI have very specialised, esoteric meanings dealing in semantics. Whereas, declarations such as Grade 1, % of TFM, FDA approved, Permitted Colours used, Preservative Free and Premium product, indicate quality. None of them concern themselves with animals or animal ingredients, so could very well have been utilised. No different to the IMA’s (Indian Medical Association) unethical endorsements on soaps and other products like those manufactured by Dabur and Pepsi, exposed by actor Aamir Khan on one of his TV shows in 2012.

Caution also needs to be taken with regard to items labelled as follows:

Animal-Friendly: ambiguous wording.

Biodegradable: ambiguous wording.

Care for Nature: ambiguous wording.

Chemical Free: no lab produced substances utilised, but ingredients utilised can be of animal origin.

Cruelty-Free: may be oblivious to the fact that killing is cruel. (Beware of ‘Cruelty-Free’ pledges.)

Earth & Plant Based: earth can cover animal derived substances.

Natural: indicates not synthetic or lab-produced, but can be of animal origin.

No Animal Fat: can contain other animal substances.

Organic: can contain plant and animal substances.

Residue Free: in-between conventional and organically farmed produce.

Organically Pure/Certified Organic: can contain organic plant and animal substances.

Artisanal Foods: products made by hand in small batches, with traditional production techniques instead of automation, using fresh and locally sourced ingredients which could be of animal origin.

Pure/Genuine: unadulterated ingredients which can be of animal, mineral or plant origin.

Eco-Friendly and Environmentally-Friendly: users of slaughterhouse "by-products" present themselves as such for the waste prevented — for a profit.

Green: can contain plant and animal substances. Could have been manufactured using a process that saves energy and lessens carbon emission.

Herbal: indicates the presence of herbs, but not the absence of animal-origin ingredients.

Recycled/Recyclable: (refers to packaging, not contents) may or may not have been recycled and can contain plant and animal substances.

None of the above specifically addresses the issue of testing on animals.

Against Animal Testing/No Animal Testing: policy statements that do not indicate the product has not been tested on animals.

Dermatologist Tested/Allergy Tested/Clinically Proven: ambiguous wording.

Safe: likely to have been tested on animals.

Page last updated on 11/01/24