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The Hype of Organic Food

It comes as no surprise for the rise of organic food, literally articled by CNBC, is a rising food industry trend and shows increasing sales and market share globally. Fuelled by chemophobia (aka fear of consuming chemicals) and hate towards processed food that have been shown to promote obesity and health-problems upon excessive consumption [1].

How true is this fear? Have we really assessed the situation thoroughly, or simply followed the implications of others? Why is the fear of food obtaining any other way than the nature a reality?

The organic food sales in India have a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 20.5%, which is surprisingly, or not, quite high.  Growing from 7600 crores in 2017 to approximately 24000 crores in 2027 shows where people are willing to put their money in. The idea of investing and buying organic labelled products comes from industrialisation periods, where rising health issues from supposed working conditions made the wealthy think that their food was being poisoned. Hence, going back to how things were produced [2].

Defined by USDA, organic production is agricultural product produced using methods that come under the term. And that is pretty much it. There are no other additions to it. No official health claims, benefits, or indication of “natural” aspects. Just standards indicating the ways of producing the food, and processing using lack of synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, or colours [3].

Now that you know what organic encapsulates, let me tell you what it does not. Organic food id neither safer to consume or more nutritious than processed food. The big claims of using “naturally” derived pesticides and fertilisers over synthetic ones, driven by unethical marketing, is the big culprit of this misconception. While organic farming may not use synthetic additives, it uses pesticides regardless derived from “natural” products. Use of unprocessed farm waste to make compost and manure has no control of potentially leaking diseases into the soil, water, and local biodiversity. While wastage reduces, this lack of control only makes the scenario more unsafe for the crops that grow using the “naturally” derived pesticides and fertilisers [4, 5].

A very simple solution to add regulations over the types, sources and limits of heavy metals, residual pesticides and potentially harmful organisms must be eliminated. However, you would be surprised that this is already being done, for synthetic additives.

Let’s take the bigger picture of this problem, the organisms that are consuming this food. Looking at anthropogenic population growth, consumption, and use of a variety of products that are now globalised, it is not sustainable to grow things at the same speed, resource utilisation and susceptibility to crop failure before being sent to consumers to eat. Organic farming does not comply with any of these ideas, and assumes that this is sustainable, while quantifiably, it is not. Considering the above factors, take climate change for example. The sheer amount of energy needed to transport large quantities of fresh water from underground makes agriculture a very expensive contributor to CO2 emissions. Change of focus from using fossil fuels to multi-generation Agri-feedstock and making renewable energy only makes this worse. All in all, with limited resources like water, nutrients, land, organic farming is an ignorant slap to all the issues [4, 6].

Wild and Modern Watermelon [7] 
Photo by Any Lane on Pexels.com

It would be a lie to say that organic farming has always been preferred. Sustainable farming practices has been advancing at the same time, one of which is the research going into making GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Organic farming supporters assume that GMO will eliminate existing crop species because of eugenics. Yes, that is true, and that has been the pathway of anthropogenic farming methods. Looking at the pictures of before-after domesticating crops, these are GMOs essentially. Academia has just refined the process by understanding the genetic modification and effects on plants. This will help reduce load on resources and improve efficient farming practices, that basically solves all the problems mentioned with only going with organic farming. This is also more controlled when farming, hence safer for the public. The advancement however is being slowed because of political negligence, but that is not within the scope of this article.

Wild and Modern Banana [7] 
Wild and Modern Corn [7] 

So, why are we discussing about organic farming? The problem is not the science but the lack of understanding and perception of information. I always appreciate scepticism about food in general and improving it, however being deceived by organic farming and fear marketing is not a solution.

What can you do about it? Feel free to read the research articles I have cited and learn more. Generate more discussion to engage people into understand why organic farming and organic food is easily misconnected and hyped. Take the right choice when getting your food, should it be an organic label or properly understanding the ethical production of food and it is undergoing processing that is regulated.

References

[1] D. Green, “The rise of the organic food market,” CNBC, 22 September 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/22/organic-food-sales-surged-in-2020-higher-demand-and-cheaper-costs.html.
[2] EMR, “India Organic Food Market Outlook,” [Online]. Available: https://www.expertmarketresearch.com/reports/india-organic-food-market.
[3] USDA Organic, [Online]. Available: https://www.usda.gov/topics/organic.
[4] M. Markowicz, “Fact Finders: Organic food rife with misconceptions,” Uloop, Carlsbad, 2016.
[5] S. Koch, A. Epp, M. Lohmann and G.-F. Bol, “Pesticide Residues in Food: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Misconceptions among Conventional and Organic Consumers,” Journal of Food Protection, vol. 80, no. 12, pp. 2083-2089, 2017. 
[6] A. D. Dangour, S. K. Dodhia, A. Hayter, E. Allen, K. Lock and R. Uauy, “Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review,” Am J Clin Nutr, vol. 90, pp. 680-685, 2009. 
[7] T. Lewis, “Here’s What Fruits And Vegetables Looked Like Before We Domesticated Them,” Sciencealert, 20 September 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.sciencealert.com/fruits-vegetables-before-domestication-photos-genetically-modified-food-natural.
Author: Garv Bhardwaj 

Hi! My name is Garv and I am a chemical engineer. I love learning, discussing and growing my knowledge in STEM education. Behind the scenes of academics, I tackle climate change by running a student team in Australia. Through my writing, I wish to make people aware of interesting and controversial STEM topics, with the purpose of generating curiosity and inquisitiveness.

Email- bhardwajgarv1602@gmail.com

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