Originally published September 15, 2017 on The Edmonton Sun
National Organic Week in Canada starts this Saturday – and it’s considered one of the largest, annual celebrations of organic food across the nation. Organic represents not only a vibrant alternative food system, but substitute options for clothing, cleaning products and personal care items.
It’s wonderful that we embrace the cause – but the term “organic” has been under the microscope of late, for a variety of reasons. There are misconceptions as to exactly what the term means, and how it impacts on the average person. Consumers will say they want to eat the right foods, and make the wisest choices, but, at the end of the day – what sets one egg apart from another? What makes this carrot different? Why should I worry about what’s in my cleaning product?
Just what does it mean when you say you’re going organic?
“Going organic means exposing ourselves less to synthetic materials,” says Michelle W. Book, the Canadian Health Food Association’s (CHFA) in-house holistic nutritionist. Book says the science on the nutritional benefits of organic continues to develop, “yet we can already see the broad differences, including a mandate for sustainable and healthy production, humane animal treatment guidelines, and traceability from farm to table,” she says, adding “choosing organic means investing in the well-being of the environment, from the air you breathe, to the water you drink and the land you live on.”
According to Organic Canada/Biologique Canada (organized by CHFA, Canadian Organic Grows and the Organic Trade Assoc., in collaboration with sponsors and regional partners across the country) organic is also the only non-GMO standard overseen by the Canadian government. With organic standards, GMOs are forbidden in seeds, animal feed, and the ingredients of processed organic food and products.
Consumers should be aware that organic farmers work in harmony with nature, notes Book, adding “organic agriculture builds healthy ecosystems, and organic farms have higher biodiversity on and around them, promoting sustainability and ecological balance.”
It’s all about reducing pollution and wasted energy, building healthy soils, protecting our water and “leaving fertile land that will provide for future generations, and help to sequester carbon back.”
For additional details, recipes and ideas on how to celebrate Organic Week, which goes to Sept. 24, check out Organicweek.ca.
Q & A with Michelle Book
Q: How do you know you are buying organic?
A: In order for a product to use the term organic on the label, it must be certified and be made of at least 95% organic ingredients. The Canada Organic logo is a common symbol that identifies the product as organic and up to Canadian standards.
Q: What does organic mean?
A: The term organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Organic food is produced using environmentally and animal-friendly farming methods, and organic certification lets consumers know that every step along the supply chain has protected and maintained the organic integrity from farm to fork. In Canada, this system is overseen by government standards and regulations, and applies to both domestic and imported products. Canada’s organic standards are among the most widely recognized in the world. Guided by these and other standards, the organic food system is now the most heavily regulated and scrutinized in Canada.
Q: Why does it cost more to eat organic?
A: There are a few reasons organic foods can cost more than their non-organic counterparts, one of the main being organic farmers often need to use manual methods of controlling pests and diseases rather than relying on synthetic chemicals. This increase in manual methods means an increase in time and/or resources, which costs more money. There are also costs associated with the certification process and planning that must be factored into the production of organic food.
Q: What’s the difference between regular eggs and organic eggs? How about cheese and milk?
A: Hens, goats and cows that produce certified organic eggs, milk and cheese are fed certified organic feed that is free of growth hormones, antibiotics and GMOs. Standards are set to consider animal welfare, including access to pasture. From a nutritional standpoint, it has been reported that organic, free-range eggs have a better nutritional profile than conventional, battery-caged eggs, including vitamins A, E and D. As for dairy products, a study of American milk products found that organic production improved the nutritional quality of milk.
Look for the logo
The “Canada Organic” logo is the consumer’s assurance that products have been grown and handled according to strict procedures and rules, and in compliance with the Organic Products Regulations. Imported products bearing the Canada Organic logo must also meet the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime.
WHAT SHOULD BE IN YOUR ORGANIC PANTRY?
Nearly everything in your pantry can be organic, from olive oils to your cereal. If you’re just starting to build your pantry, I recommend going organic one piece at a time. Whenever you finish an item, replace it with an organic alternative the next time you go grocery shopping.
Some of my favourite organic pantry staples are: