Read on to learn about organic food as well as the advantages of organic food.
We have been hearing a lot about organic food for the past few years. The demand for organic food in India has increased drastically since the coronavirus outbreak and is still rising. An important lesson we all have learned from the pandemic is the need to build strong immunity. This has led to people leaning more towards healthy and organic food.
Organic foods such as grains, vegetables, and fruits are everywhere, from markets to e-commerce sites, and people are willing to buy them even by shelling out extra money. Now, what do we mean by organic food? How is it grown? What are the benefits of consuming organic food? Do we really need to eye on organic food for better health? Let us see further in this article.
What is Organic Food?
To understand what is organic food, let us first see the scenario that led to the cultivation of this food. When the Indian population was low initially, agriculture was almost near to nature, which means it was organic. The traditional knowledge and practices of agriculture had been passed down from one generation to the other. But, as the population increased exponentially, the number of crops cultivated employing the traditional agricultural practices was not sufficient to feed the people.
Then came the rise of the Green Revolution. During this period, technological interventions in agriculture were widely adopted by farmers to increase agriculture production to meet the demands of food of fast increasing population (Dholakia and Shukul, 2012). The Green Revolution increased the production of food grains and paid a rich dividend. At the same time, it also increased the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This caused serious damage to the environment and human health.
When we talk about organic food, it means the way in which the food crop is cultivated, harvested, and preserved. Organic food does not always imply only vegetarian food, but this term can be applied to animal food as well. Thus, organic foods are the food that is produced using ecologically and environmentally sound methods that do not involve synthetic inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers, do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and are not processed with irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. Food that comes from living animals such as meat, eggs, and dairy, should come from the animals who are not fed antibiotics or growth hormones. (1)
How to identify Organic Food in India?
Studies have shown that people’s perception regarding organic food being healthier than conventional food is constantly strong in Asia Pacific Region and in emerging economies like India and China. (2,3) A study (Chakrabarti et. al. (2010)) showed that Indians prefer organic food for their children. (4) Even though organic food is in demand in many countries, the quality of this food and the standard of production which they should follow is not clear. Hence, many of us are very cautious and careful while buying organic food. The authenticity and genuineness of organic food are always questionable.
Imagine this scenario, on one hand, you have conventionally grown ripe mangoes and on the other, you have organically grown mangoes. Both are firm and rich in color. Both claim to provide vitamins and fiber and to be free of fat. Which one will you choose? How will you check if that particular mango is actually organic or not?
The problem of fraud and mislabeling happens when a product is marked as organic but has non-organic ingredients or when the organic production standards are not adhered to in the production process. Therefore, it becomes important to check if the food labeled as “organic” is genuinely organic. Let’s see, how can we check this!
The Government of India has established certain rules and legislations to govern the quality, authenticity, and standard of organic food products in India. The Food Safety Standards Act, 2006, given by The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regulates the manufacture, distribution, selling, or importing of organic foods. Consequently, organic foods are regulated by Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017, notified under the above act.
Under these acts, the standards and requirements that the organic food need to comply with are given by The National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) and Participatory Guarantee System (PGS-India).
To verify if the products that are bought from the market are really organic, one needs to look out for a few logos which are as follows,
- Jaivik Bharat Logo
Look for the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India’s (FSSAI) unified organic food product logo – Jaivik Bharat and FSSAI Logo License number.
- India Organic Logo
The food product may even carry the India Organic Logo (NPOP certified) along with the FSSAI license number.
- PGS-India Certified Organic Food Products
In addition to the Jaivik Bharat logo, the organic product may also carry the PGS-India Logo. There are two logos under PGS-India. The PGS-India Green logo is for agricultural products obtained from fields that are undergoing the process of conversion to organic farming and the PGS-India Organic logo is for those food products from fields that follow complete organic farming.
Both the programs (NPOP and PGS-India) are independent of each other. The food products certified under one system cannot be processed or labeled under another system. While NPOP certified products can be traded in export and in domestic markets including imports, PGS-India-certified products can be traded only in the domestic market.
Advantages of Organic Food
- Better health
As you know by now, organic foods do not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers during their production, and hence, do not contain any elements of toxic chemicals that affect human health in harmful ways. The use of natural techniques works absolutely well in producing safer, healthier, and better smelling final food products. Besides, healthy food simply means healthy people and better nourishment for better living.
- Environmental benefits
Once farmers start using chemical pesticides for their crops, the natural or biological control functions of the ecosystem diminish and the farmers are forced to continue using pesticides and chemical fertilizers. After years, the quality of farm soil, as well as the ecosystem, is degraded. As these pesticides and chemical fertilizers are not used in organic farming, it is more environment-friendly.
- Income and food security for small farmers
To be successful, organic farmers need to follow polyculture farming like mixing and/or rotating crops and animals. With multiple crops and/or with animals, total production per unit area is usually greater. With organic farming, even though the yields may be lower and labor requirements more, because of the higher prices paid for organic produce, these organic farms may take in an equal or higher income than conventional farms.
- The welfare of animals
In organic farming, animals are fed with more diverse types of natural feeds, unlike conventional farming where processed feeds are given. They are also treated for diseases with alternative remedies, not relying on antibiotics. They are often exposed more to the open places, and so, they enjoy more natural lives as compared to conventionally raised farm animals.
- Decreased antibiotic resistance
The use of antibiotics as preventive measures against diseases in animals is commonly practiced. But this practice is strictly prohibited in organic farms where animals are reared. The animals cannot be given antibiotics for any diseases and if given, their products cannot be sold as organic for almost one year. This helps in reducing antibiotic resistance, which is on a rise lately. This has also been demonstrated in several studies. (5)
- Increased nutrient content
Studies of the nutrient content in organic foods differ in results due to differences in the ground cover and maturity of the organic farming operation. However, reviews of multiple studies show that organic food does provide significantly greater levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than non-organic varieties of the same foods. Studies have shown that organic dairy products, and meats, may have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids, although this difference is likely of marginal nutritional significance. (6)
No doubt, organic food has numerous health and other benefits, but its biggest drawback is authenticity and the rates at which they are sold. Not all can afford to buy organic food every day. You need to weigh your food choices and see what is beneficial for you and what can go a little heavy on your pockets. Keep in mind that not all junk food is cheap, and still, we do buy and relish it. Make your health choices wisely.
Do let us know in the comments section below your opinion regarding choosing organic food.
Author: Dr Pooja Nilgar (Content writer & editor)
- Singh, A. and Verma, P., 2017. Factors influencing Indian consumers’ actual buying behaviour towards organic food products. Journal of cleaner production, 167, pp.473-483.
- Harper, G.C., Makatouni, A., 2002. Consumer perception of organic food productions and farm animal welfare. British Food Journal, 104, pp. 287-299.
- Chinnici, G., D’Amico, M., Pecorino, B., 2002. A multivariate statistical analysis on the consumers of organic products. British Food Journal, 104, pp. 187-199.
- Chakrabarti, S., 2010. Factors influencing organic food purchase in India e expert survey Insights. British Food Journal,112, 902-915.
- Winter, C.K. and Davis, S.F., 2006. Organic foods. Journal of food science, 71(9), pp.R117-R124.
- Crinnion, W.J., 2010. Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Alternative Medicine Review, 15(1).