The growing popularity of organic foods has created greater demand for organic produce and meats – people are slowly yet surely recognizing the long-term benefits of consuming food that is produced or grown without the use of any artificial additions. While various companies and local producers alike are racing to meet the growing appetite for organic foods, there is a pertinent question that looms over our heads – Is the food we are purchasing really organic?
It is not uncommon for manufacturers to use unfair practices and get away with loopholes in food labelling norms. There could also be chances that as consumers, we may mistake natural or free-range foods to be organic. There is a worldwide movement to persuade lawmakers to force GMO foods to put GMO labels on their food and openly declare how it was grown, so that all other foods without such labels is naturally assumed to be organic. In order to safeguard ourselves from scrupulous practices and purchase only authentic organic foods, here are a few steps and precautions to be taken.
1. Understanding organic foods
To truly understand what you are consuming is organic, one needs to completely understand what organic foods really are. Organic food can be defined as produce derived from organic farming practices, without the use of any chemical or synthetic additives, keeping in mind the goal of sustainability, health and safety of the environment, the food and the consumers of such food. The common misconception in case of organic foods is the free usage of the term organic to refer to natural or free-range foods. Natural foods and free-range foods are not the same as organic foods. Natural foods or ingredients refer to those foods that have undergone minimal processing, with no guarantee to its cultivation procedures and synthetic additives. Free-range refers primarily to animal husbandry where the animals are allowed to roam freely outdoors, as opposed to being enclosed within constricted spaces for twenty-four hours each day.
2. Read the labels through and through!
While labels offer vital information when it comes to ingredients, food processing and the like, it is important to make it a practice to go through not just the bold headings printed on the label, but also on the fine print. It is required by law for manufacturers to clearly label foods for what they are, organic or not. When you come across a product that says ‘Organic’ or ‘Certified Organic’, this could mean various things – the product is 100% organic, the processed food is made with organic ingredients, or the processed food consists of less than 95% of organic ingredients. The key is to peruse the labels and make sure that what you are buying is 100% organic or is made using 100% organic ingredients.
3. Look for certification/authenticity marks
Indian-made organic foods or organic produce carries an authentication mark or certification mark called India Organic – this mark is an indicator of the produce or the food product conforming to the National Standards for Organic Products implemented by the Government of India through the National Program for Organic Production (NPOP). This certification mark is recognized by several countries across the globe.
4. Keep an eye out for PLUs
Typically, Price Look-Up codes or PLUs carry indicators of whether the food product is organic or not. In several countries, an organic food item is identified using the PLU code – if the code begins with the digit 9, it is said to be organic, based on the code classification. While this is not a common practice in India, it is best to research on price codes at your regular grocery store to understand how they identify organic produce.
Organic foods carry with them various health benefits and environmental benefits – the key is to identify those that are authentic. While it is easy to get misled by relying on labels alone, it is not too hard to keep oneself equipped of the different ways to identify genuine organic foods from the spurious or wrongly labelled ones.