How many people know exactly what they are getting when they purchase a product labelled “organic?” Here are some facts that will help you better understand the organic food industry.
The organic food industry is rapidly growing within Canada. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, there are more than 800 processors of certified organic ingredients, produce and livestock in Canada. Beginning in December 2008, products labelled as “certified organic” must abide by certain standards regulated by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB). These regulations are set for products grown both nationally and internationally. This means that in order for an imported product to be sold on Canadian shelves, they must follow the same standards as Canadian-grown products. Until the general Canadian Organic label comes in effect at the end of this year, the term “organic” will remain cloudy.
According to the Organic Council of Ontario, “organic” can be defined as being grown without the use of chemicals, synthetic materials such as pesticides and fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation or genetically modified organisms. The difference between “organic” and “certified organic” is that in order to be certified as an organic producer, farmers must go through the process of getting their operation site tested for compliance with the regulations set by the government. This process is often costly, especially for small local farms. This is why so many farm owners opt not to label their products as “certified organic,” however in their practices they abstain from using pesticides, fertilizers and other unnatural processes.
Grocery stores stock mostly certified products. Depending on which grocery store you go to, the selection of organic products varies. In York Region, the grocery stores with the widest variety of organic products – from fresh produce to personal care items – are Fortinos and Dominion. Both stores have begun to incorporate organic products into their aisles, rather than having just an organic section. This makes it easier for a customer to see a variety of products that are available to them. Highland Farms also has a great selection of organics, especially organic produce. Look for the “organic” label to identify these products.
You will see more and more organic food in local grocery stores in the near future, as consumers are beginning to be more conscious of what they put into their body. Non-perishable, organic food items can be bought in grocery stores year round. In the produce aisles, you will find imported organic fruits and vegetables that are not in season in Canada, as well as local produce that is in season. The problem with this is that the packaging and transportation of imported products is taking a toll on the environment. Rather than buying imported produce, check which fruits and veggies that are in season in Canada and buy local produce either from local farms or at your local grocery store. A convenient sign in local grocery stores is the “Ontario” sign, that tells you the product was grown close to home. By supporting local industries, we eliminate the need for unnecessary packaging, refrigeration and transportation of fresh produce, and do our part in sustaining the environment we live in. The term organic will remain fuzzy up until December, which means that we should all remember to ask questions like: Where did the product come from, how was it processed, and whether or not chemicals were used to grow or produce the product.