September 6, 2019
There was a time you could only find organic food in specialty health food stores. Today, organic alternatives to most fruits, vegetables, and other market staples are easily found at your local Co-op store. Organic fruits and vegetables are more diverse, and the costs have come down as more consumers opt for this cleaner eating option.
If you’re new to choosing organic, you might be wondering what makes organic food different from conventionally-grown foods, and what the benefits are of choosing organic options?
What Makes Foods Organic?
The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products (like fruits, vegetables, and animals raised for consumption) are grown and processed. It includes regulations on the production, processing, distribution, and sales methods of products. According to the Organic Trade Association, foods labelled as organic guarantee limitations on things like how pests are controlled or what ingredients can be included.
In Canada, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulates the use of the Canada Organic logo and it’s only permitted on products that have an organic content that is greater than or equal to 95% —and products that have been certified according to the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime.
Organic production processes are also eco-conscious and aim to improve the environment, not only conserve it. All foods labelled as organic go through a rigorous certification process, so you can be sure that minimum standards are always met.
That’s what the organic label means, but are there health benefits to choosing organic foods?
5 Reasons to Choose Organic Foods
1. No toxic and synthetic pesticides or fertilizers
Choosing 100% organic foods will give you peace of mind knowing that no artificial or damaging pesticides were used in their production of processing. Several of the pesticides used on foods grown for human consumption contain chemicals that are damaging for our health. Since pesticides are meant to kill living pests, it makes sense that they could damage our health as well.
Some of the toxic pesticide residues linger on the fruits and vegetables. When consumed regularly in the food we eat, these chemicals can cause major health issues from cancer to disruptive hormones and chemicals that are toxic for the brain.
Canada’s organic standards place strict limits and prohibitions on the use of persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, as well as the routine use of drugs, antibiotics, or synthetic hormones, animal cloning, genetic engineering/GMOs, using sewage sludge or biosolids as fertilizer, or irradiation.
2. No GMO ingredients
Another requirement of organic foods is that they cut out any ingredients containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are crops that have been genetically altered to ensure longer life, drought-resistance or to ingrain pest resistance.
The safety of GMOs has been the subject of debate for decades. Some attribute certain food allergies to the proliferation of GMOs. In Canada, organic food is the only non-GMO food standard overseen by the government.
3. No antibiotics or growth hormones
When humans regularly eat foods that contain traces of antibiotics, like meat from antibiotic-treated cows or pigs, the antibiotics circulate in the body. Over time, you can have a resistance to antibiotics, potentially contributing to the rise in superbugs around the world.
Growth hormones are given to animals raised for conventional beef or milk to promote faster growth or to prolong milk production. Some research shows that these hormones may alter hormones in our own bodies, resulting in consequences for growth and reproductive health.
4. No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives
Processed foods are highly criticized for their contribution to obesity and the rise in chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer. In order to use the organic label, manufacturers are not allowed to use artificial flavors, colours. Organic foods must ensure all preservatives, flavours and colours that are added to organic foods are natural, or organic themselves.
5. Buying organic supports thriving farms and communities
Whether it’s grown locally or abroad, organic fosters our relationship between the land and its people.
Not only do organic farming practices make it safer for farmers to harvest our food, but organic farming minimizes pesticide contamination and reduces soil erosion, allowing farms, farmers, and their communities to thrive for generations to come.
Organics can support strong economies; in Canada, organic farms create jobs at twice the rate of conventional farms.
When it comes to bio diversity, bio diversity loss is one of the world's most pressing environmental concerns. The good news is that many organic communities have been collecting and preserving heirloom seeds and raising rare breeds of livestock for decades. In this way, organic is working to preserve genetic diversity.
Choosing organic foods can both protect your health in the short and long term while they also promote the well-being of animals, farmers, and the environment.
Calgary Co-op carries many natural and organic food options from produce, to packaged foods. Check out our selection during national Organic Week 2019 (Sept. 9 - 15, 2019).
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