The demand for organic foods began with fruits and vegetables when there were reports of pesticide residues in them. However, the popularity of organic foods has now extended to food grains, pulses, tea, spices and even oilseeds. The organic food market in India is growing at 20-22 per cent annually as the country has a rich heritage in organic farming and data shows that about 1.5 million hectares of land is certified as organic. In 2016-17 India exported Rs.2, 478 crore worth of organic commodities like oilseeds, cereals and millets and processed organic foods.
The advantages of organic foods
Organic foods have gained popularity because people have become aware of their benefits. They contain no chemical pesticides and 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 and so parents prefer to give them organic foods. Another advantage is that organic foods do not contain growth hormones or antibiotic residues. Animals are often given growth hormones and antibiotics in animal feeds which are directly passed into animal foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products and from foods to the consumers. In organic farming these practices are banned and animals feed outside in natural surroundings. Antibiotic containing foods consumed frequently makes these antibiotics ineffective in humans.
Saviour of the Eco-system
Organic farming is a lifeline not only for small farmers that get a fair price for their produce but the environment also gets a fillip. Another area where organic farming proves useful is that it encourages the growth of a number of natural varieties of foods and prevents loss of species. These natural varieties are tastier and more nutritious. Today more than natural species the hybrid varieties have come to dominate agricultural crops. Organic farming is carried out in harmony with nature so it also helps preserve the natural environment, wetlands etc. which in turn support wild life. It reduces pollution caused by chemical pesticides, and fertilizers in the environment as well as water.
Organic Certification Bodies
Organic food products are either grown under a natural system of agriculture, without the use of synthetic fertilizers or they are processed products made from organically produced raw materials. Therefore, any food offered for sale as “organic food” in India, needs to comply with the provisions laid down under either the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) administered by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) or the Participatory Guarantee System for India (PGS-India) operated 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 then their authenticity is suspect.
Organic food regulations
According to the Delhi-based Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) such foods that are labelled organic but not certified cannot be considered safe. The ICRIER also mentioned the need for a uniform standard for organic foods in its last report. Now the Food Safety Standards and Authority of India (FSSAI) have launched the Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations 2017 along with the unified logo for organic food products, supported with the tagline “Jaivik Bharat.” All organic foods certified under this logo also need to convey the full and accurate information on labels about the organic status of the food. The ‘Jaivik Bharat’ logo will henceforth be recognised as a mark of quality assurance given by the above mentioned certification bodies in India or any other bodies recognised by FSSAI.
Though, people who buy organic foods in India come from all socio-economic backgrounds. However, what is common is that these people are mostly health conscious consumers that go in for organic foods, even though they are more expensive than conventional foods. They do not mind paying a little extra for the comfort of knowing that they and their families are safe from the perils of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and antibiotics. What these consumers must also understand is that they must not blindly buy foods labelled ‘organic’ but must look for the certification mark which truly authenticates the food as being organic. This logo certifies that the 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 safer in the knowledge that the ‘organic’ foods and products they are buying are indeed authentic and safe.