So What’s the Truth Behind Buying “Organic”?

This is an ongoing popular topic. The Question: Should we buy organic, or not? Many people have the assumption that organic is a waste of money or think it’s just too expensive. Then there are the people who will only buy organic fruits and vegetables. So what’s the truth about organic? Let’s dig deeper on the meaning of “organic”.

What does organic mean?

The definition of organic is “relating to or derived from living matter”. In terms of food, organic generally means the farming that avoids the use of man-made fertilizers, any use of pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock, feed additives, and no GMOs (genetically modified organisms). 

However, organic can mean different things depending on the country - the term ORGANIC may not even be regulated. Fortunately, Canada has very strict guidelines and regulations on what can be labelled as “Organic”.

 

Organic farming in Canada prohibits:

(excerpts from OCIA certification standards)

  • Synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides
  • Synthetic fertilizer
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) à through all farming stages
  • Ionizing Radiation (zapping food with nuclear radiation to kill germs)
  • Sewage sludge
  • Growth hormones and antibiotics for livestock
  • Cloned animals

 

Organic farming certification standards in Canada:

(excerpts from OCIA certification standards)

  • Land must have had no use of and be clear of unacceptable/prohibited materials for at least 36 months prior to first harvest à this means, for example, if an organic farmer buys land that use to be for conventional farming, they must wait 3 years before they can start their practices!
  • There must be a physical barrier (e.g. trees, plants) of 25ft between the organic farm and roads, non-organic farms, homes, etc.
  • Holistic soil maintenance à crop rotation, composting, reduce tillage, routine soil testing, etc.
  • Generation of an audit trail is mandatory à have to annually pay to obtain organic labelling, have random inspections done, and keep notes and proof that they’re following the regulations
  • Use renewable resources wherever possible
  • Humane livestock practices
  • And many more

 

How do I know it’s organic? 

Watch your labels!

NOT Permitted:

- A “100% organic” claim 
- Made with organic ingredients

Permitted:

Organic content of 95% + are considered organic

Organic content 70-95% or more must declare the percentage of organic content on the label

Organic content with <70% may only indicate the specific ingredients that are organic

A product can only be labelled as organic if it's been certified by an accredited body that meets the Canadian Organic Standards. 

  

Why is the cost so different than conventional produce?

Farmers MUST follow strict guidelines and procedures in order to be certified organic. This is costly....

 

Some of the reasons organic is expensive:

  • Higher production costs
  • Labour
  • Lower yields with some crops
  • Marketing costs – less infrastructure than conventional and cost of labeling “organic”
  • Not subsidized by the government – Did you know the Canadian government does not regulate conventional farms AND it even subsidizes them with our tax dollars?!
  • Currently demand is greater than supply for most organic products

 

Should you buy organic or..?

It is definitely a personal and financial health choice. I have listed some reasons why you considering buying organic isn't such a bad idea:

  • Environmental health = prevents soil erosion, waste, chemical pollution, saves energy, protects water quality, promotes biodiversity, uses renewable resources
  • Support humane livestock practices
  • Keep chemicals off your plate and out of your body
  • Potentially more nutritious and nutrient-dense
  • Avoid antibiotics and hormones in your food
  • Help farm workers, fair trade and fair wages
  • Tastes better – more flavourful

Want to learn more ? Stay tuned next week for the blog post “Clean 15 & The Dirty Dozen” for more information on when buying conventionally farmed foods is best!

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