Organic Produce: The Meaning Behind the Label
Organic produce has absolutely erupted into the Canadian grocery market over the last decade, more and more shoppers are dedicating a larger portion of their grocery baskets (and wallets) to organic food and beverages. But what exactly does it mean to be organic, and who decides? What are the benefits and downsides? We’ll break it all down below.
What is Organic?
The movement behind organic food as we know it started in the 1940s as a response to the growing industrialization of agriculture. The term within the context of this movement simply means produce that was grown and processed without the addition of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, and additives . For livestock, the animals are raised with access to the outdoors (no strict guidelines on this however) and given organic feed.
Is It Regulated?
Yes. And this is where a lot of misinformation surrounding “organic” can be sourced. In the US and Canada, organic products are regulated by a governing body and must meet each governing body’s standards in order to be able to be labeled as such. In Canada, the regulating body is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and in the US it’s the USDA under the National Organic Program (NOP). Any food, seed or livestock sold bearing the term organic, must meet the guidelines and criteria set by their respective governing bodies. In Canada, products with an organic content of over 95% are permitted to label themselves as organic and bear the certification below .
Canada Organic Logo 
What Are the Benefits of Buying Organic?
Although the science is still out on a number of claims regarding the health benefits of organic foods, there are a few key benefits to the label that are worth your consideration.
- Reduced consumption of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Many of the chemicals involved in conventional farming have been shown to be potentially carcinogenic to humans. This fact alone is a major driver for the organic foods movement, although due to the nature of soil and groundwater contamination, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s effectively impossible to be rid of all traces of pesticides, even in organic products.
- Reduced consumption of antibiotics and synthetic hormones. I say reduced for the same reason as above, but organic livestock are raised without being injected with antibiotics to boost their immune system, nor hormones to accelerate growth for quicker lead times. Why is this important? Antibiotic resistance is a real problem that the scientific community is trying to address, and is being exacerbated by the human consumption of animals raised in typical factory farming environments .
- Promotes environmentally friendly farming practices. Although there is an important distinction between organic products and organic farming, the two are not totally divorced. Organic farming is an agricultural practice that puts emphasis on sustainable farming methods, such as eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides, reducing water waste and practicing crop rotation, with the overall health of the ecological system in mind. This results in reduced leakage of pollutants into nearby soil and waterways, as well as enhancing crop diversity, all of which is beneficial to the environment. Unlike organic products however, these practices are not tightly regulated but are nonetheless implemented in varying forms in order to produce certified organic foods .
What Are the Downsides?
Organic products are not without their flaws. As with anything that involves more costly measures in its production, the cost is passed down to the consumer with some products coming in at 47% more expensive than their conventional counterparts. The range in price differences however, is quite significant and can vary from product to product, and region to region. Despite being generally more cost prohibitive, organic products are not necessarily more nutrient rich either, which is a turn-off for consumers who may have bought into the movement thinking they are getting a healthier version of the same chicken or carrot.
As a Canadian consumer, look at the Canada Organic logo as a certificate of authenticity when buying things claiming to be organic. Do note that although it may not necessarily have all the health benefits that are claimed by its proponents, you are reducing your consumption of potentially harmful chemicals and toxins involved in modern day agriculture. If sustainability and animal well-being are important to you, organic farming has far reaching benefits for the environment that conventional farming methods never will. The decision may ultimately come down to cost however, as these benefits often come at a steep price which may not always reflect what you value when making purchasing decisions at the grocery store.
By Joshua Jung
Artwork by Noah Jung (@noahjungart)