Growing Popularity of Organic Foods: What You Need to Know

The demand for organic foods started with fruits and vegetables when pesticide residues were reported. However, the popularity of organic foods has now spread to food grains, pulses, tea, spices and even oilseeds. The organic food market in India is growing at 20-22% annually as the country has a rich heritage in organic farming and data shows that around 1.5 million hectares of land is certified organic. In 2016-2017, India exported Rs.2,478 crore of organic products like oilseeds, grains and millets and processed organic foods.

The benefits of organic food

Organic foods have grown in popularity because people have become aware of their benefits. They contain no pesticides or chemical fertilizers and are grown naturally with manure or compost and only natural pesticides and insecticides are used. Children are more susceptible than adults to diseases caused by chemical pesticide residues in food, so parents prefer to give them organic food. Another advantage is that organic foods do not contain growth hormones or antibiotic residues. Animals often receive growth hormones and antibiotics in animal feeds which are passed directly into animal foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products and food to consumers. In organic farming, these practices are prohibited and the animals feed outdoors in a natural environment. Frequently consumed foods containing antibiotics render these antibiotics ineffective in humans.

Savior of the Eco-system

Organic farming is a lifeline not only for small farmers who get a fair price for their produce, but also for the environment. Another area where organic farming proves useful is that it encourages the growth of a number of natural varieties of food and prevents the loss of species. These natural varieties are tastier and more nutritious. Today, more than natural species, hybrid varieties dominate agricultural crops. Organic farming is practiced in harmony with nature, so it also helps to preserve the natural environment, wetlands, etc., which in turn support wildlife. It reduces the pollution caused by chemical pesticides and fertilizers in the environment as well as in the water.

Organic certification bodies

Organic food products are either grown under a natural farming system, without the use of synthetic fertilizers, or processed products made from organically grown raw materials. Therefore, any food offered for sale as “organic food” in India must comply with the provisions laid down either by the National Organic Production Scheme (NPOP) administered by the Agricultural Food Export Development Authority and (APEDA) or the Participatory Guarantee Scheme for India (PGS-India) managed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. There are a number of organic brands that use the term “organic” on labels, but if these products are not certified, their authenticity is suspect.

Organic food regulations

According to the Delhi-based Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), such foods labeled as organic but not certified cannot be considered safe. ICRIER also mentioned the need for a uniform standard for organic foods in its latest report. Now, the Food Safety Standards and Authority of India (FSSAI) has launched the Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations 2017 along with the unified logo for organic food products, backed by the slogan “Jaivik Bharat”. All organic foods certified under this logo must also convey complete and accurate information on the labels regarding the organic status of the food. The “Jaivik Bharat” logo will henceforth be recognized as a mark of quality assurance granted by the above mentioned certification bodies in India or any other body recognized by the FSSAI.

However, people who buy organic food in India come from all socio-economic backgrounds. However, what is common is that these people are mostly health-conscious consumers who opt for organic foods, even though they are more expensive than conventional foods. They don’t mind paying a little extra for the comfort of knowing that they and their families are safe from the dangers of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics. What these consumers also need to understand is that they should not blindly buy food labeled “organic”, but should look for the certification mark that truly authenticates the food as organic. This logo certifies that organic food is indeed free from all kinds of adulterants like pesticides, heavy metals, mycotoxins, antibiotics, etc. With the regulatory framework in place, consumers can feel more secure knowing that the “organic” foods and products they are purchasing are indeed authentic and safe.

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