This week’s Sunday Story is of a different type in the sense it is a very serious subject that I am trying earnestly.
It is said in today’s world though longevity has substantially increased thanks to advanced medical Science and availability of health facilities even in rural parts, , health conditions have decreased due to several factors important being ‘FOOD’! Elders used to lament that the food they ate in their young ages were more nutritious than what is being available today! May be right or may be wrong. In the interest of growing more food for the increasing population, agriculturists make use of more and more chemical fertilizers which is not good for human health.
Objective of this Sunday Story is to think about Organic Food, get convinced about its efficacy and make efforts to follow by going in for Organic Food in our daily life to the extent possible.
The organic food almost like tsunami came about a decade ago, washing over our lives completely. From the humble cucumber to the exotic avocado, from pulses to salad leaves to spices to rice, every single food item we used to buy from the grocers suddenly had an organic cousin sitting next to it on the shelves – with the only obvious difference being a higher price tag. Soon, companies specializing in organic food deliveries came up, claiming to bring produce directly from an organic farm to our table. Now, many restaurants promise the same. This trend has surpassed all food trends and one can even get organic Diwali sweets now.
The United Nations’ recent declaration of Sikkim as the world’s first ‘organic state’ has brought the big organic debate back into focus: what exactly is organic – and how do we identify a genuine organic product?
Simply put, a product is organic if it is produced in a farming system that uses no chemicals, fertilizers, GMOs or artificial additives. Instead it relies on crop rotation, animal and plant manure, and biological pest controls. It is good for all. Following environmentally conscionable agro-ecology policies in growing food ensures a better future for our biodiversity and is nutritionally beneficial for us, including, lowering the risk of cancer.
But with so much organic produces in the market, it is hard for the average consumer to sift authentic organic produce from something that may be just cashing in on the trend. So how does one make sure what we are eating is genuinely chemical-free? It is not exactly simple, but there are a few checks to do so.
Organic vs. 100% organic
The first difference we need to understand is that not all organic food in the market is 100% organic. Labeling plays an important role in identifying this difference. In India, one can get a farm certified by a whole host of certifying agencies approved under the National Program me for Organic Production (NPOP), and any food item may adhere to one or many organic certification standards.
Consumers inspect organic vegetables sold out of the back of a car in Chennai (C Suresh Kumar/ BCCL Tamil Nadu)
. “While not all organic food in the market is 100% organic, it is definitely possible to get 100% organic food in India. There are a lot of people doing good work and putting in a lot of effort to produce quality 100% organic produce, and the labeling standard is very strict, so that’s our best guide.”
Unless the product clearly says 100% organic, we need to research the certification standards of the label on our food to understand exactly how organic the food is. The international standard of declaring anything organic requires it to be strictly chemical and pesticide-free but India doesn’t always follow the rules.
Understanding certificates and standards
An organic farm may strive to get certified by Indian and international standards both. We can get various organic food certifications, such as United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) authorized bodies, EU organic standard and more.
Just you see a display in KANNU KUTTI ORGANIC SHOP near my home in Jeevan Bima Nagar, Chennai.
Indu Bhandari Sinha, partner in the Indo-Australian JV, Indus Jaivik Aura, and a
firm believer in Vedic farming, thinks mere certification is no guarantee that your food is organic. “I would not be surprised if 80% of the standards specified by organic bodies in India are not followed by most ‘organic farmers’. I have also known cases where people use one certification to sell their other non-organic foods or, worse, buy certificates.”
Small farmers who do the good work and produce organic crops often find it too cumbersome or confusing to get the right certification.
Llook out for the PGS India certification. International standard certifications like USDA and EU are also a good way to ensure a stricter check.
The role of water
Groundwater pollution is one of the major causes of chemicals seeping into crops, raising a big question on how organic any food produced in India is. Rainwater harvesting is a solution – farms such as Jayram’s use large rainwater harvesting tanks to supply their farms with unpolluted water through the year.
An organic farm in Tamil Nadu (P. Sreedharan/ BCCL Tamil Nadu)
“Apart from rainwater harvesting, we also need to do long-term planning and make an effort to rejuvenate the ground water by following best practices. Ideally, one should individually strive to replenish the water under their land,” says Indu.
The India Organic logo, a bird logo, is an important check in this respect. If you are dedicated enough, you can also resort to legwork and due diligence to actually check how the farm where your food is coming from uses water. Most organic farms are open to public and anyone can go and check their practices anytime.
The price factor
Price, in fact, shouldn’t be a factor. There is no real reason for organic food to be more expensive than non-organic, and experts agree that there is hardly any difference in the cost of normal and organic farming.
“High cost does not equal organic food,” says Indu. “It is the middleman that makes the price high, not the farmer. If a non-organic apple is Rs 60 per kg, organic apple might be Rs 80 per kg but the middleman and branding can take it up to Rs 200 per kg or even more, depending on how upmarket the colony is, where the produce is selling.”
The farmers do not make money on these high costs that we as consumers pay for organic food.
Price only becomes a factor in consumption. Shelf life of organic food is low because it does not have additives and preservatives. “Buy in small quantities!” suggests Jayram, offering a simple solution. Buy less and consume fast – those are the only two precautions you need to keep in mind with organic produce.
How organic is ‘organic’?
Testing organic food for chemicals is a lengthy and expensive prospect. While people are continuously devising new ways of detecting impurities and pesticides in milk and vegetables, for now the only solution to making sure that you are eating 100% organic food may be to… grow your own food.
An organic terrace garden in Mumbai (Uma Kadam/ BCCL MUMBAI)
It is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Vertical gardens and small home patches are pretty common in urban homes now. Indu suggest a more organised approach. “The government should encourage people to grow their own organic food,” she says. “They should install a station in every colony, something like the Kendriya Bhandar outlets, where people can get responsibly sourced native heirloom seeds, nourished soil, and other things they need to have balcony or terrace gardens. These stores can also help people recycle and be a one-stop green solution for people. It is the government’s job to encourage green habits.”
In Delhi, this will not only ensure organic food, it will also improve the air quality! Until you are ready to grow your own organic food, the next best option is to buy seasonal produce from a local vegetable hawker rather than a branded organic banana.
Let us make efforts to switch over to ORGANIC FOOD gradually. So this much for this Sunday story. We shall carry on. Till tomorrow good bye!