How are “organic” carrots and cabbage different from the same vegetables that don’t have that label? They’re all plants that were grown, harvested, shipped, and laid out for all the grocery-buying public to see. Isn’t “Organic” just more marketing spin like “Made with Whole Grains” or “No Added Sugars”?
These two groups are tirelessly advocating for clearer guidelines and a universal standard for the term “organic” that all certified organic producers must follow.
Now, there already is a standard in place in Canada. But it is only a federal standard, which means that there is wiggle room with the term at the provincial and local levels. Federally accredited organizations that are able to certify produce and products as “organic” exist nationwide, but certification isn’t always accessible. And, unfortunately, even an innocent misuse of “organic” can confuse consumers and degrade the certified meaning of the word.
But that just takes us back to our title, right? Why “organic” in the first place?
Well, the advantages are felt at the ground level (literally) and all the way up the economic chain that gets your food from the farm gate to your grocery cart.
Organic practices are all about improving and maintaining soil health. With that in mind, the organic standards outlined on the Canada Organic Trade Association’s website state that no synthetic fertilizers or toxic synthetic pesticides, irradiation or sewage sludge can be used in the production of organic produce. These restrictions and other required organic practices are implemented to minimize agriculture’s impact on the environment. These practices include using composted and green manures (growing a nutrient-rich plant and then plowing it into the soil to enrich the soil for the target crop), allowing pollinators to manage pest insects, and using minimal tillage techniques and crop rotation.
Ultimately, these practices benefit the planet because they all encourage nutrient-rich soil in which helpful microbes can thrive. These practices also prevent harmful runoff from chemically-aided operations and synthetic fertilizers. Such runoff can get into our water tables or cause toxin-producing harmful algal blooms in lakes and oceans.
Having a universal standard for “organic” also benefits the commerce that we rely on to get our food to us.
When you see something that has been certified organic with the maple leaf rising over some hills logo, you can rest assured that it meets Canada’s official organic standards. That means that the product contains at least 95% organic content. The standards those certified products meet are also the same as officially certified organic products from the United States, Switzerland, Japan, Costa Rica, and the European Union. All thanks to Canada’s equivalency arrangements with these countries.
This equivalency of standards between countries allows products and the producers behind them to go to wider markets where they can find more footing and fill in local seasonal gaps. This free-flow of organic goods also makes certified items cheaper overall. Using a standard that is equivalent across several countries also simplifies the certification process to a single standard, boosts confidence in the term “organic” and the official certification logos, and adds extra weight to terms like “product of” or “locally made.”
Of course, if you’re not going out to see the farm that grew your potatoes, maybe all that matters is that you can find them in the grocery store, organic or not. But consider this.
Organically grown vegetables have been shown to have boosted antioxidant, polyphenol, and flavonoid content. These increases mean that eating organic boosts your overall health and immune system (as described in this study from the journal of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity).
So choosing organic produce is good for the planet’s health; doing so encourages the spread of an equivalent standard of “organic” across countries that makes it easier for producers to sell the organic food that they make; and organically grown food has added benefits for those who eat it.