Switching to organic food? Here are some tips to keep in mind

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Regulations and labels aside, there are a few basic things you can keep in mind when switching to organic food

The best way to tell if your food is organic is to cook it, suggests R Selvam, a Chennai-based farmer. A mother knows best, he says, and it’s about time you and I do, too.

A new set of regulations by the FSSAI, set to come into effect this month, has just been put on hold after protests by farmers in the national capital. The regulation mandated that all organic produce be labeled so, either by the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), or the Participatory Guarantee System for India (PGS-India). The FSSAI defines ‘organic agriculture’ as “A system of farm design and management to create an ecosystem of agriculture production without the use of synthetic external inputs such as chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides and synthetic hormones or genetically modified organisms.”

Switching to organic food? Here are some tips to keep in mind

“Truly speaking, there are no labels or certificates that you can trust fully for quality assurance. Co-relating quality assurance for organic with certificates is in no way a trustworthy system, as the certification system itself is defective,” says Shamika Mone, Research Director, Organic Farming Association of India. The association has organic farmers from almost every State in the country listed as its members. Mone adds, “The best that consumers can do is to check if traceability to the organic farmer is possible. Most big organic brands won’t be able to trace back to farmers. Small farmers brands have easy traceability.”

Getting to know who is growing your food, then placing your trust in the farmer makes sense, particularly in the Indian context, considering the confusion regarding certifying bodies and regulations. And then, there’s this picture Mone paints: “India has the largest number of organic farmers among the world, but it contributes only 0.5% of the world’s organic produce, with a total area of around 7,80,000 hectares in 2016, according to FiBL (the Switzerland-based Research Institute of Organic Agriculture) data. A majority of our farmers have small land holdings. The growth rate of the organic sector is increasing every year by 20-25%.”

Switching to organic food? Here are some tips to keep in mind

Most small-scale organic produce retailers worth their salt are in constant touch with those growing the produce, because, after all, the buck stops with the farmer in this case. This point is driven home by Selvam, who is also coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers Federation, which brings nearly 1,000 farmers under its banner. “The consumer has the right to know who the producer is,” he says, “And to have the option to contact the producer and cross-check.” Keeping in touch with your farmer is getting easier by the day, with farmers’ markets and federations popping up in most large towns and cities. “There is a lot of fear in consumers’ minds today about fake organics. They don’t know how to tell,” says Selvam.

Points to note

He also recommends what he terms as “eyesight verification”.

“In the Indian or the Tamil Nadu situation, practically speaking, a consumer has no way of telling organicity. “But organic produce won’t come apart when you’re cooking it. When cooking sambar with brinjal, for instance, the piece of brinjal won’t break into smaller pieces if it is organic.”

Switching to organic food? Here are some tips to keep in mind

There are other common-sense solutions as well. “Hybrids have no seasonality,” states Selvam, explaining that if you see certain produce available all year round — when it clearly shouldn’t be — it’s safe to bet that it isn’t organic. Another option is to just opt for safe agricultural practices, if you can’t guarantee yourself out-and-out organic produce. Large-scale retailers sometimes find this easier to do, and follow it up with regular tests on produce.

Sanjay Dasari, co-founder of retail chain SunnyBee, that works with 26,000 farmers across the country for their retail stores and over 200 B2B operations, says, “There is still a lot of confusion in terms of what exactly ‘organic’ means. If you ask two different farmers in two different regions, they’ll tell you with equal conviction that the differing practices they follow are 100% organic, though they haven’t had time to get certified. What we do at SunnyBee, is test the soil and samples of the product from the farm against WHO standards of food safety. This tests for heavy metal content, pesticide residue, and more.” Dasari adds, “You can’t argue with science.”

Via: The Hindu

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