Protecting the environment and eating healthy are becoming increasingly important to a growing number of Canadians. Organic farming is booming like never before, and organic baskets are quickly gaining in popularity. Even grocery stores are allocating more and more shelf space to organic food. That being said, consumers who want to make informed choices need to be wary of the multitude of logos on products claiming things like “natural ingredients” (a designation that is not regulated). Such claims are purely made by the manufacturer, and in no way certify that a product is free of chemicals or GMOs.
So how can you know what’s what?
What exactly is organic food?
The first thing you need to know is how to identify whether a given food product is indeed organic. It’s also important to keep in mind that the term “organic” refers to how the food is grown. Only products containing 95% or more organic ingredients can be labelled as “organic.” For this reason, diet food and natural products are not necessarily organic.
Among other things, organic farming involves cultivating the land in a way that improves soil fertility in the long run. It does not involve the use of pesticides, synthetic herbicides or fertilizers or sewage sludge. Nor can the seeds used in organic farming be derived from GMOs. In organic livestock farming, breeders must provide animals with living conditions that are adapted to their natural behaviour, and livestock must be fed with food grown according to organic standards. Livestock cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones, or fed with animal meal. Livestock overpopulation in closed buildings is also prohibited.
What about food that has been processed, such as bread, cheese and maple syrup? In addition to originating from organic farming or livestock, organic processed food cannot contain any artificial colours or flavours, synthetic additives or preservatives. Nor can it be irradiated for preservation.
How is organic food regulated?
Any agricultural product with the “organic” mention on its label (whether it’s food for human consumption, animal feed or seed) is regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Producers of these products must be able to demonstrate that the organic claims being made are truthful and not misleading, and that all requirements that apply to that specific product have been met. Organic producers can also obtain the “Canada Organic” logo from certification bodies accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.*
All this means that organic products must comply with very strict and specific regulations. It also means that having products meeting these regulatory requirements identified as organic can be a long and difficult process for organic producers. Producers even have to take into account which substances are permitted for use in cleaning products. These substances have to be effective without jeopardizing the producer’s hard won organic certification – or its ongoing efforts to obtain organic certification.
Don’t be fooled by all the different claims and logos out there. The only real way to tell if a product is truly organic is by carefully reading the label.
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