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Organic tag confuses buyers - Jakarta Post
Last modified: 2010-11-15 18:34:59

Organic and non-organic food. Is this all in the labels?

Most people will say yes to the question, as the only means to differentiate organic and non-organic products in supermarket shelves in the city is via the certified labels on the packaging.

"I only know it's organic when the labels say so," 28-year old Irene Natalia says.

The growing awareness of healthy life issues among urban people has encouraged many people, including Irene, to change their diet from non-organic to organic foods, which are grown without pesticides, chemical substances or synthetic ingredients that may pose a threat to consumers.

Unfortunately, the pursuit of these healthier foods mystifies many consumers when it comes to the certified labels claiming "Organic" on the product package.

Little do these consumers know that the existing organic certification system in Indonesia may lead them to the worrying possibility that these foods may not be as green as the unfortunate buyers may think.

Organic food expert Indra Surono believes this poor system is the result of the government's decision not to make certification mandatory for food suppliers.

"The government still considers it [the organic food industry] small and insignificant in terms of economic value," Indra says.

Instead, the authorities initially maintained a voluntary certification system that allowed producers and suppliers to effectively make their own claims for their products.

"We know them as certification systems made by the first party or farmers or second party or traders," says Indra Surono, who is also an advisor to the Indonesia Organic Alliance.

He said those two systems were introduced to fill the gap in the absence of an organic certification system in the country.

However, the disadvantage of this system was that consumers were not able to check on the credibility of the certification as this is only based on the claims of producers and traders.

Subsequently, the authorities introduced an organic certification system that involved official certifying bodies to deal with the lack of independent verification in the previous systems.

Under the new system, farmers, traders and suppliers must submit their products to the certification bodies for verification before being able to use the green labels.

Currently, the government grants certifying authority to seven institutions for organic certification -Biocert, Sucofindo, Lesos, Inoffice, Persada, Mal and LSO Sumbar.

The National Accreditation Committee and the Competent Authority for Organic Foods at the Agriculture Ministry guarantee the functioning of these seven bodies.

However, the government's role does not guarantee the system is trouble-free, as it is reportedly prone to abuse that may put not only consumers but also farmers at a disadvantage.

Many farmers and producers have complained that the official system is far too expensive with the certification process costing up to Rp 20 million (US$2,240).

"It is just impossible for small farmers to spend that much only to get certified," said one of organic food suppliers, Evi Indrawanto.

The government certification system may harm consumers as well as producers given alleged widespread corruption practices that may expose buyers to fake organic foods, whose certificates are obtained through bribery.

The official organic certificate is also being questioned because certification bodies only verify the land where the foods are grown but not the end products.

"This verification system is vulnerable to fraud as producers who cheat may include uncertified products that will go unchecked because officials only check on the environment, not the products," Christopher Emille Jayanata, the founder of Indonesia Organic Community (IOC), says.

In response to these worrying allegations on the certification system, Christopher is proposing that one way out for consumers is to join organic communities, where buyers and suppliers can meet and communicate.

"Consumers can directly contact their producers and check the products through these communities," said Christopher, who launched IOC last September. The community has a membership of more than 900 people only three months after being set up.

Ika Krismantari, The Jakarta Post 11/01/2010

Keywords: Organic tag confuses buyers, Jakarta Post, organic, organik, labels, healthy, certification, sertifikasi
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