This article is the third issue of a series on healthy food habits. Click here to read the second issue: The Importance of a Healthy Life and the first issue: Does an Apple a Day Keep the Doctor Away?
With the advent of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, the agricultural sector in India saw a huge push towards the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
While they have proven to be essential for raising healthy crops and livestock, overuse of synthetic chemicals has led to a multitude of problems; not only do they hamper soil fertility and pollute the water that runs off from fields, but they also pose various risks to our health and well-being. On the other hand, organic foods produced through natural farming practices avoid all artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). However, it’s a popular misconception that organic farming is just a new ‘fad’. In reality, all agricultural produce before World War II was organic in nature, i.e. produced without any synthetic chemicals. It was only later that farmers resorted to chemical fertilizers to increase yield and profits.
Though at the time it was more important to increase food output to feed the rapidly expanding population, research on inorganic farming and environmental concerns have given us several reasons to switch to the more sustainable form of organic farming. Firstly, naturally grown agricultural products are free of heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium, and compounds like nitrates and ammonium chloride, which are known to cause problems like kidney related ailments, dizziness and diarrhoea. Additionally, due to a natural phenomenon known as biomagnification, trace quantities of synthetic fertilizers in our food can lead to unhealthy amounts of chemical build-up in our body that can cause diseases like cancer and methemoglobinemia. Moreover, non-organic food farms use antibiotics to ensure their animals, especially poultry and livestock, remain disease free. This extra dose of antibiotics promotes mutations in the pathogens, which can lead to resistance to antibiotics, making disease control difficult. On the other hand, organic food growers and dairy farmers do not use antibiotics for their produce, thereby making it safer. Therefore, organic food offers a safer alternative to chemically grown vegetables, fruits and cereals.
Further, some studies show that organic foods have more beneficial nutrients and antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts. Organically grown crops have less nitrate, and organic dairy products and meat may have more omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, people with allergies to foods, chemicals, or preservatives often find their symptoms lessen or go away when they eat only organic foods.
Thirdly, when fields soaked in chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weedicides are irrigated, the excess water is drained into nearby lakes or rivers. This runoff is rich in chemical content and leads to eutrophication which in turn depletes the oxygen content of these water bodies, throwing the ecosystem off-balance. As harmful chemicals are not used in organic farming, there is minimal soil, air, and water pollution, thus ensuring a safer and healthier world for future generations to live in.
Apart from environmental and health benefits, organic farming is also more ethical. Conventional poultry, dairy and meat farms house chickens, ducks, cows, pigs and other animals in inhumane conditions; they are kept in cramped, dingy cages and stables that are, more often that not, packed beyond capacity. Additionally, the large doses of medicines and antibiotics they are given can interfere with their natural homeostasis. In contrast, organic farms boast of free range hens that are not made to spend a majority of their life cycle in a cage. They aren’t fed any medicines or hormones either, making organic farms more animal friendly in nature.
In India, as around the world, organic farming is gaining popularity. Sikkim has beaten 51 nominated policies from across the world to earn the badge of being the world’s first 100 percent organic state; its organic farming policy is said to have benefited over 66,000 farming families and boosted incoming tourism. The policy that won them the Future Policy Award, 2018, focused on a total elimination of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and helped achieve a total ban on the sale and use of chemical pesticides in the state. Sikkim has also noted a 50 percent growth in output between 2014 and 2017, by just boosting its agro-ecology. The agricultural model applied in Sikkim has been such a success that Japan and South Korea have expressed their interest in importing organic vegetables, food grains and medicinal plants grown from there, which if carried out, would add yet another feather to the cap of the Himalayan state’s organic mission.
Last April, as part of their initiative to convert Sikkim into a fully organic state, the state imposed a ban on the sale of non-organic vegetables, barring five items. However, in spite of being a fully organic producing state, it is not yet a fully organic consuming state because of multiple reasons, including a massive gap between demand and supply, lack of production of certain vegetables like potatoes and onions, and the high cost of organic vegetables as compared to non-organic ones. Regardless, since the project in its nascent stages but has still shown positive results, it has set a precedent for other states to follow.
Therefore, while organic farming has some clear benefits, an obvious downside is the method’s inability to meet demands. But it would be naive to assume that organic foods are going to be a thing of the past anytime soon. It has proved to be unlike other food trends that peaked and then quietly made an exit, and is bound to gain even more popularity on account of being safer, healthier and more sustainable.
**Indianfolk provides to you a new series on healthy food— a set of articles that guide you through the steps of a moving towards a healthy life, inspiring you to stay committed to a goal that will make you as well as the world you live in better. Stay tuned to the site for our next issue**
Picture Courtesy- The Ecologist