By Matthew Holmes, Executive Director, Canada Organic Trade Association
When you ask people what's special about organic food, they generally say organic farmers do not use toxic chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). That's part of the picture, but there is much more to it.
Organic agriculture offers compelling answers to the complex issues facing the world today - whether hunger, land sovereignty, environmental degradation or the threat of GMOs in the food chain.
The organic movement started as farmers, scientists and consumers began to question the long-term legacy of the post-war intensification of chemical agriculture. Sadly, many of these concerns are just as real today as they were back then.
But truly, what can a consumer do about unethical labour practices within the multinational food system; about the prevalence of cancer among farm workers; about the toxic impacts on our environment and wildlife from industrialized agriculture; about the unsustainable use of fossil-fuel-derived synthetic fertilizers that form the basis of modern agriculture; or about the GMOs and countless chemical additives we all eat without knowing it?
It's simple: you can support organic agriculture and help us grow a sustainable and positive alternative.
A lot of people are talking about the "100-mile diet" in support of local farmers and local economies. This concept is really important, but it goes both ways: if your local PEI potato farmer is contributing to the toxins in your water that make thousands of fish wash up dead after a major rain-fall, this is not a good relationship. If your local meat producer isn't following humane animal welfare standards, what does that say about your community? If your Ontario corn and soy producer is increasing the number of GMOs that are contaminating and compromising the future of food as we know it, why would they deserve your support?
Instead, let's talk about the 100-year diet: sustainable ecological agriculture that contributes to the resilience of our food system and food security, increases the biodiversity and balance in our environment, and contributes to the health and well-being of our children and our communities. This is what organic offers that truly sets it apart and makes it worth supporting.
It is time for Canada to re-imagine agriculture as something more than just a major trade that results in food. We need to find a way to bring agriculture, health and environment together. All three are unquestionably linked.
Some governments have already done so: giving incentives to farmers who provide ecological goods and services to their communities and society in general.
In Germany, for example, several water utilities pay farmers to switch to organic methods and certification because it costs less than removing conventional farm chemicals from water supplies. Makes sense, doesn't it? In Italy, the government requires schools to provide children with organic foods to ensure they have the best possible start in life with nutritious foods from local farmers.
To make these sorts of changes here at home, it's up to you to "go organic".
When you see the Canada Organic logo on a food label, you know that product meets Canada's national organic requirements, overseen by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. As organic certification is built on top of all other food regulations and food safety requirements, organic is the most regulated and inspected food system in the country.
But organic is not only that.
When you see the Canada Organic logo on a food product, you know that product is from an alternative food system that is supporting farmers and processors who take the long-view of agriculture, health and environment. Choosing organic really does make a difference.