The very word, ‘Organic’ has taken over our food market by storm! We see it in supermarket shelves, grocery stores, restaurant menus and there are even entire restaurants dedicated to organic food. The demand is sky rocketing worldwide with what was once a niche market now shooting its way to a hugely revenue- based industry. [...]


Organic food – What you need to know


The very word, ‘Organic’ has taken over our food market by storm! We see it in supermarket shelves, grocery stores, restaurant menus and there are even entire restaurants dedicated to organic food. The demand is sky rocketing worldwide with what was once a niche market now shooting its way to a hugely revenue- based industry.

What is organic food?
Organic food is food that is grown or processed with a farming system that avoids the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Such foods also do not contain any artificial ingredients or preservatives. If foods are labelled as 100% organic they cannot be irradiated or contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Organic meat, eggs and poultry products come from animals that are given no antibiotics, growth regulators or livestock feed additives. All artificial colourings and sweeteners are also banned in organic food.

Why does organic food cost more than conventional food?
Yes, why the high cost? This is because, organic food production is generally more labour intensive with organic farmers using organic approved fertilizers and repellents and practical methods such as crop rotation, intercropping, cover crops etc. to control disease, pests and weeds. These incur far more costs than chemical fertilizers and pesticides that are generally manufactured in automated large manufacturing plants. There is also the case that post-harvest handling, marketing and distribution of relatively small quantities of organic produce results in higher costs due to mandatory segregation of organic and conventional produce.

Does organic food contain more nutrients?
The word ‘organic’ in the food you buy does not automatically mean it is more nutritious than conventional food.Of course there are some research indicators with respect to specific components and products. One suggestion is that organic food generally contains more nutritionally desirable antioxidants with a specific instance being organically grown tomatoes that have a higher level of the well-known antioxidant lycopene.

With respect to organic meat and milk, research has proven that they can be more nutritious as they contain about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids which are unsaturated healthy fats than conventionally produced products, the difference being attributed to the way organic livestock is raised with a grass-fed diet and more time spent outdoors.

Are organic products healthier?
Yes, they can be termed healthier as consuming fruits, vegetables, grains, greens and other organic plant products have the all-important fact of reduced exposure to pesticide residues and heavy metals that can slowly accumulate in the body over time. When the body’s natural detoxification pathways cannot eliminate them they can reach toxic levels. Similarly the main advantage of organic meat and dairy food is less exposure to antibiotic and hormone residues where over exposure contributes to antibiotic resistance while synthetic hormone excesses have been linked to increased risk of cancer.

How will you know that a product is organic?
This is the ‘Golden question’. With so many labels claiming a product is organic, with entire sections in supermarkets demarcated for organic food, with several market places selling organic produce, how will you know? You will have factual confirmation that a product is ‘organic’ when it has organic certification. Organic standards require that organic foods are approved by an organic certification body where inspectors visit the farms on a regular basis, inspect all the farming practices and ensure that the food meets strict regulations relating to production, storage, processing, handling and marketing.

Individual certification bodies have their own service marks so in addition to the word ‘organic’, check if the product has the logo and/or name of the certifying body. If organic produce is being exported it is mandatory that the certification body is accredited by an internationally recognized organization. This can be expensive and can vary based on the certifying agency, size of the farm and other factors such as administrative and inspector fees.

Organic quality guarantee system
As organic certification in most instances is beyond the reach of small scale farmers, there is in operation a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) that is specially adapted to local markets and short supply chains focused on local quality assurance systems. In this system products are guaranteed based on active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust. PGS can be advantageous as a preparatory step to obtain certification at a later date.

Buying organic food
Even though buying organic food is the safest option for everybody it may not be affordable as you will typically pay two to ten times or even more depending on the certification category. So make good decisions, when going for ‘organic’. Vulnerable groups such as young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those suffering from allergies may benefit the most from organically produced foods.

But if purchasing ‘organic’ is beyond your budget, thoroughly washing the produce in cold running water will remove some of the pesticide residues that are on the surface of the food. Another even better option is to wash with a dilute salt water solution.

Organic and Natural
When you browse through the supermarket shelves containing organic food, you will notice some labelled as ‘natural’. Organic and natural do not mean the same thing. While ‘organic’ is a heavily regulated food system, ‘natural’ foods come with no guarantees. Even though natural foods are assumed to be minimally processed, and do not contain any hormones, antibiotics, preservatives or artificial flavours, there is no guarantee that this is so as there are no rules and regulations for products labelled as ‘natural’.

When you opt for organic food, other than in specific instances do not bank too much on the nutrition factor. However, focus on the health aspect, maybe the taste and of course your genuine concern for the environment. Organic food grown and produced without pesticides and chemicals keeps the earth’s soil water and air cleaner and healthier.

Grow your own organic food
You can grow organic fruits, vegetables and greens in your garden using organic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic fertilizers include compost, animal manure such as cow dung and green leaf manure like gliricidia. Compost is an excellent source of organic matter and can be made at home from leftover food scraps and garden sweepings. Then there are the soil enhancers that include banana peels, waste aquarium water, coffee grounds, used tea leaves, egg shells andcooled cooking water.Some well-known organic pesticide ingredients include neem (kohomba) oil, tobacco leaves and fresh cow dung.Also plant Marigolds in your garden–they are well known for pest control. Coffee grounds and egg shells are good to deter slugs and snails while orange peels will keep small insects away.

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