Plateful of pesticides

Who says it's "certified" organic?


Besides the fact that organic food can taste better than conventional produce and meat — because organic varieties are often chosen based on flavour rather than yield and cosmetics — food that is grown organically is healthier for consumers, the environment and the livelihood of farmers.

As food and water expert David Steinman reports in his book Diet for a Poisoned Planet: How to Choose Safe Foods for You and Your Family (1990, Harmony Books), 183 pesticide residues have been found in conventionally grown peanuts and 110 in raisins. Rating these foods as the most pesticide-saturated foods, Steinman advises eating only organic peanuts and raisins if possible.

Several studies have found that the possible short- and long-term human health effects of agricultural chemicals are numerous and range from respiratory problems in field workers (despite hazardous working conditions, farmers and their employees often work without any kind of safety clothing or respiratory protection) to severe allergic and asthmatic reactions, reproductive disorders, cancer and degenerative diseases in both consumers and farm workers.

One of the most alarming aspects of the use of chemicals in conventional farming is that most of them serve no real purpose. According to research done at Cornell University in New York in the early 1990s, 500 million kilograms (1.1 billion pounds) of pesticide chemicals were applied in North America every year. Of that amount, 99.9 percent missed the target organism.

Another astonishing fact about pesticides comes from John Bede Harrison, author of Growing Food Organically (1993, Waterwheel Press): "In 1945, only 13 kinds of pests were found to be resistant to the pesticides then available. Forty-five years later, over 500 types of pests had developed resistance. Today there are over 50,000 commercial products manufactured to combat resistant pests."

How do all these toxic chemicals affect our planet? To start with, they can deplete the earth of its nutrients and its diversity of life forms, pollute our land, water and air — which in turn harms the wildlife that depends on them — and lead to considerable soil erosion. Singularly, these concerns are serious, together they are disastrous.

Certification bodies have been established around the world to assure consumers that the food they are buying is indeed organic. Unfortunately, because there are many certification bodies worldwide, there is not just one symbol to look for; certification logos come in all shapes, sizes and colours.

However, following years of collaborative work, there will be a common Canadian certification logo, as a national organic standard has recently been developed and adopted by the organic industry and the federal government. Organic products with a Canadian Organic Advisory Board label will guarantee consumers — both in Canada and abroad — that the food has been produced and processed in accordance to the principles and guidelines of the National Standard of Canada for Organic Agriculture.

Until this national label gains recognition and use, one of the most familiar certification logos to look for belongs to the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA). OCIA is a farmer-owned and -controlled group and probably the most established international certification body, with approximately 30,000 certified members worldwide.

Other certifying bodies in Canada include the Society of Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening (known as Demeter), the Organic Crop Producers and Processors/Pro-Cert Canada, Quality Assurance International, Fédération de l'Agriculture Biologique du Québec, Canadian Organic Certification Co-operative, Island Organic Producers Association, Peace River Organic Producers Association, Organic Producers Association of Manitoba, Maritime Certified Organic Growers and Nova Scotia Organic Growers Association.

While there are many different certification bodies, most of the organizations operate in a similar manner. They require that their comprehensive production and processing standards be met and that farmers re-apply each year for certification. (Before a farm is even allowed to apply, it must be managed organically for at least three years, the period that is deemed necessary to "detoxify" the land.) An independent third-party inspection of the farm is also conducted annually, with professional inspectors examining everything from the farm's history and its future prognosis to crop information and field management.

Another field-to-table assurance for consumers is that certified farmers must maintain a continuous paper trail so that their products can always be traced back to them. These records can also verify that the feed the farmers have been giving their livestock is indeed certified organic or that the botanical soaps used on the farms adhere to organic regulations.
Look for certification logos or certifier names on your groceries to confirm that you are buying veritable organic products.


More on organic agriculture
From the earth, for the earth | What makes organic food "organic"? | Food for thought
Benefits of organic agriculture | Why should I pay more for organic food?

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