The 24th June broadcast of Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate, on the toxic effects of pesticides, has given rise to a flurry of thoughts and queries in many people’s mind. Here we offer answers, to some of the most frequently asked questions, to shed more light on this issue.
What is organic farming?
Organic farming is a type of food production method which avoids using artificial and unsafe chemicals in the form of pesticides, fertilizers, growth regulators and animal feed additives. Fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat are grown by applying alternative farming practices such as crop rotation, mechanical cultivation, animal and green manure as well as environmentally sensitive pest and weed control.
Why is organic food better? Are there any studies to prove that organic food is healthier?
Organic food is better in terms of lesser exposure to pesticides (chemicals sprayed on food to control molds, insects and diseases) and food additives (e.g. artificial sweeteners, colours, flavours and monosodium glutamate) plus lesser environmental pollution. Organic foods, especially fruits and vegetables, are reported to taste better. However, it is unclear if they are more nutritious than non-organic food.
What are the effects of pesticides on our health and the environment? How does organic farming protect the environment?
Pesticides can cause multiple health conditions such as birth defects, nerve damage and cancer depending on the toxic nature of the pesticide. A person comes across pesticides via skin contact (handling pesticides), inhalation (breathing-in dust or spray) and ingestion (eating or drinking polluted food and water).
Long-term pesticide use negatively impacts the ecosystem. The most critical environmental impact is contaminated ground water which pollutes drinking water and all products that require water. For example, in the pesticide adulterated cola drinks the source of contamination could be either water or sugar (sugarcane agriculture). Another example is the observed link between long-term pesticide use and reduction in honey bee population which lowers the crop yield of bee-pollinated food plants such as tomatoes, beans and apples. You can read about other ill-effects of pesticide use covered in Satyamev Jayate here.
If pesticides are not used, how does the farmer ensure it is not attacked by pests?
The 2 main methods used in organic pest management are prevention and control.
Prevention techniques include crop rotation, using pest-resistant varieties and planting pest-free rootstock. If the constant monitoring of the crop indicates that pest control is necessary, then less risky pest control measures are applied.
First, highly targeted chemicals e.g. pheromones disrupt pest mating and mechanical controls e.g. trapping or weeding are used. If further action is needed, targeted spraying of pesticides is carried out.
Are there any standards or certifications for organic food?
INDOCERT is an organic food and products certification agency. It is accredited by National Accreditation Body (NAB), Government of India, as per National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP). Indocert follows USDA-NOP standards for export products.
USDA organic certification mark, commonly found on organic food in India, verifies that all United States Department of Agriculture regulations, requirement and specifications have been followed during the production of that particular food item.
Which foods are available in organic form?
Organic food available in India includes spices, herbs, vegetables, fruits, cereals, pulses (dals), oils, milk, soy products, snacks, baby food, tea, sugar and honey. Some organic food brands include Pro Nature, 24 letter mantra, Navdanya, Down to Earth, Orgavita, Organic India, Fab India, Conscious Foods, Dubden Greens, The Altitude Store and Green Fiesta.
Is the shelf life of organic food lesser than non-organic food?
The absence of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals slows the growth and maturity of organic food making it more susceptible to disease and hence lower shelf life. Organic foods should be consumed sooner rather than later.
Is organic produce costlier? Why?
Certified organic food is more expensive, though declining over time, because of lower public demand and higher productions costs during farming and post-harvest handling. However, as more people consume organic food, the economy of scale will reduce costs of production and distribution of organic products.
Where can people buy organic food? Are they available online?
Organic foods are available in farmer’s markets, major retails chains and specialty stores. For example, in Bangalore organic food is available in a variety of grocery stores ranging from Spar Hypermarket to Namadhari to Mother Earth or Fab India. Several online stores offer organic products e.g. farm2kitchen.com, downtoearthorganic.com, Onlyorganics.biz.
Where will I find reliable information about organic food?
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