Action against certification agencies is a wake up call for organic industry, says Balasubramanian of 24 Mantra

Sresta Natural Bio Products, the owner of 24 Mantra Organic brand, has recently launched QR-code-based traceability of its products that allow consumers to scan it through mobile and get all the details about the product, such as its place of production and seed variety. Explaining the initiative in an interaction with Business Line, Sresta Natural’s CEO N Balasubramanian also discussed the country’s current organic sector scenario. Excerpts:

What is the difference between Apeda’s TraceNet App and your QR code?

TraceNet has been developed by Apeda, keeping in view the requirements of importers abroad where the information base is wider. Ours is the first one in the branded organic category to provide basic information that a consumer may be interested in buying any of our products. This is a first-of-its-kind initiative. A lot of companies do not even show anything about where they are buying or sourcing. Whatever we are offering, we are putting out almost our entire DNA on the table for consumers to see. Because we want them to trust, and we trust consumers.

Do consumers have to use any specific app to find out the information?

No, there is no such need. Once the QR code is scanned using a mobile camera, it will take the consumer to our website. On the main page, he has to enter the batch code, after which all details will appear. However, some personal information the consumer has to enter because we do not want too many irrelevant people to come and trouble us.

Your initiative has come when India is grappling with irregularities found in the certification process, which is supposed to be very stringent. Apeda has already taken action against a couple of certification agencies. How do you view this scenario?

One of the key things we have been advocating and being careful about is that this sort of thing should not have happened. But for some reason or the other, we’ve got into a few challenges. So I think the role Apeda played here is highly appreciated. The certification bodies will now be a little more careful and vigilant. And that’s all I can say right now, because we have been one of those exporting for a long time, having zero issues. So I think it’s like a wake-up call for the industry. And obviously, we have to find a solution quickly so that overall organic movement and exports do not suffer.

How is your footprint in exports, and how are you managing after the US did not renew its agreement with India on mutual acceptance of organic standards?

In branded export, I think we’ll still be the leader by far, though we are exporting for the last 9-10 years. Our biggest market is the USA, and we have a good presence across the country there. Besides Australia, Singapore, Mauritius and a few European countries, we have been there for some time now. So I think we have a fairly widespread footprint. In most countries where there is an Indian diaspora today, people ask for our brand 24 Mantra. But there is still time to comply with the new set up after the US refusal. We are now following existing rules, there are some minor changes which we are working on with the agencies. But I do not think it will completely change the standards.

But from a US standpoint, we are well covered because it’s not as black and white. So we are working with APEDA and all the certification agencies to ensure this is sorted out and the trade with US does not suffer.

Do you think India needs to develop separate domestic organic standards?

As far as the Indian market is concerned, the government has already introduced PGS standards, which relaxthe farmers whole certification cost. But I think it’s important to maintain a single standard from a consumer point of view. Because, between natural and organic and then you will have different types of organic, it will make it difficult for consumers to differentiate the right kind of products they should buy. And I think today, with the government as well as FSSAI, putting more and more emphasis on the right information to the consumers, this is something which will be taken into consideration. Everybody has to adhere to similar standards because there are so many kinds of things which are being claimed. Finally, you need a consumer to buy it and someone to appreciate it, pay the premium and accept it. So we must keep the consumer in focus.

Published on

June 14, 2022

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