Everyone knows it is important to eat your greens and now the Government is taking that message a step further by raising the profile of organic produce.Despite the availability of organic food – with the number of organic farms in the UAE rising – convincing residents of the health benefits of choosing organic remains a challenge.
Maryam Al Jenaibi and Riath Shnayein were part of the Ministry of Environment and Water team that compiled the regulations and standards for selling and producing organic food. They are now championing the benefits of eating organic.
Ms Al Jenaibi said there was much to be done to convince Emiratis of the health benefits of eating produce not sprayed with chemicals or made with artificial preservatives.
“I know from my own family that it’s no longer the mother or father who are controlling what the household eats, it’s the 18-24 year olds who are dictating what grocery shopping is bought,” said the Emirati.
Ms Al Jenaibi and Mr Shnayein’s team visited 37 high schools and government institutions last year to help spread the word that a greener, more organic diet is a healthier diet.Mr Shnayein was shocked at how few children could identify common fruits and vegetables.“We took tomatoes and when we showed them, they didn’t even know what it was,” he said.
“You can’t even imagine how many children didn’t even know about lettuce.”
It was vital for people to understand whether their food came from “nature or the laboratory.It’s a start. We want people to understand ingredients in their food and drink to help them build a healthy lifestyle,” she added.
In 2012, there were eight organic farms in the UAE but, as of 2014, there were more than 70.
Nutritionist Stephanie Pech said there were many reasons to eat organic food and welcomed initiatives to spread awareness.“Many studies prove that organically grown foods have more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and micronutrients than commercially grown foods,” she said.
“Chemicals and pesticides are widely used in conventional agriculture and residues remain on and in the food we eat, which can cause food allergies and other health risks, including cancer.”Organic farming is also better for the environment. Organic farming practices reduce pollution in the air, water and soil, conserves water, reduces soil erosion, increases soil fertility, and uses less energy,” she said.
Elena Kinane is the founder of the Greenheart Organic farm and is a passionate pioneer of not only healthy eating, but sustainability.“I would love to help raise awareness among the community,” she said.
She has collaborated with schools but said more work was needed to encourage people to change their habits. “The awareness needs to be across the sections,” she said, from the farmers to the parents, teachers and children.