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WHAT DOES ORGANIC MEAN?

It seems that organic is on everyone’s lips these days, but what does “organic” really mean?

Organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed; organic food is produced using environmentally and animal friendly farming methods. Organic certification lets consumers know that every step along the supply chain has protected and maintained the organic integrity that begins on the farm.

In Canada, this system is governed by government organic standards and regulations, and applies to both domestic and imported products. Canada’s organic standards are among the most recognized in the world, and place strict limits and prohibitions on the use of toxic and persistent pesticides; synthetic fertilizers; the routine use of drugs, antibiotics or synthetic hormones; animal cloning; genetic engineering (“GMOs”); sewage sludge (“biosolids”); and irradiation. Organic standards also forbid the use of artificial food colours, flavours, sweeteners, preservatives and many other processing aids and ingredients in processed foods.

Guided by these and other standards, organic is now the most heavily regulated and scrutinized food system in Canada, letting you help our environment while also choosing great-tasting, healthy food for you and your family.

“Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.”

—The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)

 

Organic farmers cultivate their soil’s fertility and produce healthy food by:

  • rotating their crops to balance nutrients in the soil, as well as discourage pests;
  • composting and using ”green” manures to add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil, keep weeds down and prevent drought and soil erosion;
  • using beneficial insects or mechanical and manual methods to control pests and weeds
  • ensuring their animals have access to the outdoors: fresh air, sun and access to pasture are essential for animals’ health, and it’s the right thing to do!

Organic farming methods offer the best current model for promoting climate-friendly food production. This is because it is less dependent on fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides and builds resilience in the face of climatic extremes. Organic farming also stores higher levels of carbon in the soil, promotes wildlife diversity, reduces pest outbreaks, protects soil from erosion, helps prevent contamination of water, and uses far less energy than conventional farming methods.

Is organic food pesticide-free?

Most organic products test free of chemical pesticide residues, but this is not always the case. Sadly, chemical residues already contaminate much of our water, air and soil, and residues can sometimes show up in our food—even organic food. Organic agriculture is a response to this pollution but it doesn’t mean organic products will always be 100% residue “free”, since no one can make that guarantee 100% of the time (at least not until more farmers go organic!). However, many studies and experts have verified that if you want to reduce your exposure to chemical residues, the best way to do this is to choose organic products.

It’s important to remember that organic is about more than simply not using chemicals: it’s about rotating crops and building healthy soil for the future, it’s about treating animals well, and many other things you can’t “test” for (which is why we have organic inspectors out in the fields!).

What is the difference between “organic” and “natural”? 

A lot! In Canada, organic is regulated by the government and must follow national standards, while “natural” is a marketing term used by companies based on their own definition of what “natural” is. That means anyone can use the word “natural” on their products, and consumers have to trust them. “Organic” on the other hand, is the gold standard for “eco-labels”—inspected and overseen by the government. Make sure you Think Before You Eat and look for the “Canada Organic” logo!

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Why choose organic products?

 

  •  Organic products meet strict national standards — The “Canada Organic” logo is the public’s assurance that products have been grown and handled according to strict procedures and rules. Organic is the most heavily regulated and scrutinized food system in Canada.
  • Cut back on chemicals! — Many herbicides and insecticides commonly used in agriculture have been found to be carcinogenic, hormone replicators, or negative for children’s development. Choosing organic has been shown to significantly reduce your exposure to chemical residues.
  • Organic farms take water seriously — Organic farmers are required to manage the land and life around water systems very carefully, and are inspected annually. By not using synthetic fertilizers and persistent toxic chemicals, organic farming is also easy on our precious water reserves, while building good soils that fight erosion.
  • Organic farmers work in harmony with nature — Organic agriculture builds healthy ecosystems, and organic farms have higher biodiversity on them and around them too: promoting sustainability and ecological balance.
  • Organic methods reduce pollution and wasted energy— More energy is used to produce synthetic fossil-fuel-based fertilizers than to cultivate and harvest crops or to transport food. Canadian studies have shown that organic farming practices can use as little as half the energy of other farming methods, and help to sequester carbon back into the soil.
  • Protect the health of farmers and children — Farmers exposed to pesticides can have a significantly higher risk of contracting cancer compared to non-farmers. And children are exposed to relatively more than an adult is when they eat residues on their food. Choosing organic reduces the exposure for children, and the farmers who grew their food.
  • Organic farmers build healthy soil — Soil is the foundation of the food chain. Organic farming is focused on using sustainable practices that build healthy soil microbiology and prevent erosion, leaving fertile land that will provide for future generations.
  • Organic farming is good for rural Canada — The Census of Agriculture has shown that, on average, organic farming families earn more from their farms than the typical Canadian farm does, and employ more people per farm too!
  • Organic producers strive to preserve genetic diversity — The loss of a large variety of species (biodiversity) is one of the most pressing environmental concerns. The good news is that many organic farmers and gardeners have been collecting and preserving seeds, and growing heirloom varieties and rare breeds of livestock for decades.
  • Organic food tastes great! — It’s common sense: healthy soils produce strong, healthy plants that become nourishing food for people and animals.
  • Organic is the only non-GMO standard overseen by the Canadian government — organic standards forbid the use of GMOs in seeds, in animal feed, and in the ingredients of processed organic food and products. If you’re concerned about GMOs, think before you eat: think Canada Organic!
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Going ORGANIC at home:

It’s as easy as choosing only organic foods! Here are a few extra tips:

  • Read your labels! Always look for the “Canada Organic” logo – Organic products are always certified, so look for the certifier name and seal.
  • Start small, and have fun! It’s never too late to “go organic” – Explore the diversity of Canadian organic farmers and processors have to offer: from breakfast to dessert!
  • Share the love – prepare a special meal for your loved ones or host a dinner party showcasing some interesting organic ingredients. (And then share the recipe with us!) Here are a few great organic recipes.
  • Think before you purchase. Remember to support your local organic farmer, and ask them about their organic claim: they’ll be happy to show you their organic certificate.
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Organic products at a store near you!

Did you know that Canada has a wide variety of organic products, all to be found at a store near you?

Organic products are getting easier and easier to find. Check out your local:

  • Cafés and restaurants
  • grocery stores,
  • natural and health food stores,
  • farmers’ markets
  • food-box delivery programs or community supported agriculture

If you can’t find great Canadian organic products at your favourite spot, it doesn’t hurt to ask the manager to bring some in… we’re still growing organic in Canada so we appreciate the help!

And remember: always look for the “Canada Organic” logo!

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Did you know…

There are over 3780 organic farms in Canada covering 953 thousand hectares of land. Each producing fresh home-grown food that’s nutritious, tastes great and that’s good for our environment and communities. Click here to meet the Canadians that grow your food.

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