Is going organic healthier and is it really worth the expense?
Food trends come and go, but the interest in organic foods continues to rise.
“People are more aware and are thinking about their own personal food choices,” said Dora Chan from the Organic Council of Ontario.
“There’s a huge health factor and agricultural impact. People are reading more about it and are also seeing the connection between local organic produce and their local growers.”
The Organic Council of Ontario, located in Guelph, is the voice for organics in Ontario. Members include organic farmers, processors, businesses, and supporters who bring organics ‘from the field to your fork’.
Certified organic means products have no prohibited pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. By eating organic foods, many today believe there is a lower risk for exposure to environmental toxins and serious health issues found in non-organic meat and produce. In addition, organic foods are considered the cleanest available.
Organic agriculture is a production method which promotes and enhances biodiversity, protects long-term soil health and reduces the impact of agriculture on climate change by encouraging carbon sequestration in the soil according the Organic Council of Ontario.
In Canada, organic practices are regulated by the Canadian Organic Standards and producers or processors who use the Canada Organic Logo must meet those standards.
The Organic Council of Ontario says organic production is designed to:
- respect the environment through the responsible usage of soil, water and air, minimizing agricultural pollution
- protect the long-term health of the soil, encouraging soil biological activity and minimizing soil degradation and erosion
- provide livestock with humane living conditions for their health and well-being
- recycle materials and resources whenever possible and reduce the use of non-renewable resources
Organic production does not permit the use of synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, ionizing radiation as well as growth hormones for animals producing meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products.
“Looking at the demographics today, more and more consumers are buying organic at least once a week,” Chan says. “And more and more are millennials.”
Consumers today are taking an interest in what goes into their bodies and are more curious than ever about the benefits that accompany an organic lifestyle when it comes to their health and the environment.
Studies show that there are higher levels of nutrients in organically grown foods, including vitamin C, iron, phosphorus and magnesium as well as higher levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants are a class of phytonutrients, which are naturally occurring plant compounds responsible for the unique flavours found in food.
Along with giving food its flavour, phytonutrients are linked to positive health benefits in humans. Foods produced organically have been shown to contain higher levels of phytonutrients. When a plant is not sprayed with chemical pesticides, it produces its own in response to exposure to pests – resulting in more phytonutrients.
Many organic consumers will agree that organics taste better and perhaps this is because of the greater level of phytonutrients present in organic foods.
Organic production requires that farmers use humane animal husbandry practices, including giving livestock access to open-air runs. The use of synthetic growth hormones is not permitted.
Organic certification standards do not permit the use of genetic engineering in organic production (GMOs).
Environmentally, organic cultivating and processing respect the environment by using green technologies. That includes working in harmony with nature and protecting the quality of the water and soil.
Biodiversity is also a key part of organic farming. Organic farmers work to preserve biodiversity – which is the variety of species on the planet – by practicing crop rotation, using traditional seed varieties and respecting the diversity of their local lands and environment.
Organic growers and processors use practices that reduce chemical runoff and preserve ground water quality.
Certification standards assure consumers that organic foods and products have been grown and handled in accordance with sustainable procedures without the use of synthetic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.
“There is a Canadian organic logo which is regulated,” Chan says.
“Distribution is controlled and there are strict restrictions. Everything organic must be certified. We want consumers to know to look for this logo.”
What does ‘certified’ organic mean?
According to the Organic Council of Ontario, certification is the process used to ensure that organic products are in line with the Canadian Organic Standards (COS). Canada’s Organic Products Regulations legally require organic products to be certified according to the COS if they are traded across provincial or international borders or use the Canadian Organic Label.
Organic certification determines the basic requirements for organic food production systems. In Ontario and Canada as a whole, the certification of organic farms is carried out by third party certification bodies which have been approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
The Organic Council says that it takes a producer up to three years to transition to the production and sale of certified organic products. During the transition phase, products can still be sold, but not as certified organic. If producers can prove that no prohibited substances have been used on the property in the last three years, it can take a minimum of 15 months to achieve certification.
Why buy local?
Many organic farms are smaller, independent operations that work hard to create food for the communities around them. This supports local farmers, strengthens local economies and community ties between farmers and consumers.
Also, the closer food is produced to home, the fresher it will be. The eggs you buy at the store for example, come from a local farm. It only takes 4-7 days for eggs to travel from the farm to the grocery store.
Foodland Ontario’s availability guide lists all the vegetables and fruit produced in Ontario and highlights when they are in season. Visit: https://www.ontario.ca/foodland/page/availability-guide
For more information regarding organic farming in Ontario visit: www.organiccouncil.ca
To find an organic farm or business near you, visit: