Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pick and Choose

"We see pesticide residues throughout environment. It's in our soil, they're in our water. So unfortunately, it's really hard to have a zero pesticide residue any longer."
Matthew Holmes, executive director, Canadian Organic Trade Association
ŠiStockphoto/Kelly Cline

Things simply are not always the way they appear. There is illusion and then there is reality Some count on reality to shake them free of illusion, and others prefer their illusions and cling to them. Those consumers committed to the idea of organically-grown products having a huge advantage in nutritional food quality, kindness to the environment, and zero pesticides are more than happy to pay premium prices for the edible consumables that give them comfort in their sure knowledge that they are helping themselves to better health and increased longevity.

However, even the committed know they can no longer emphasize the previously celebrated major attribute of food grown without the aid of applied chemicals, such as pesticides. And so, with great reluctance but a nod at the true state of our environment, Matthew Holmes acknowledges the ground, air and groundwater saturation of herbicides and pesticides, used both to protect crops from infestation of contaminating weeds and vermin and to increase crop yields.

CBC News found that an analysis of data compiled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency between 2011 and 2013 pointed out that 45% of organic produce marketed in Canada contained some pesticides, while 2% exceeded the maximum permissible limits of pesticides. Of organic grape samples, 77% tested positive for pesticides, 45% of apples and 30% of carrots -- while 78% of non-organic produce contained pesticide residue, with 5% exceeding maximum allowable limits.

Canada's organic food market now presents as the fourth largest in the world. Just about every farmer's market focuses on locally grown and organic. Most supermarkets stock organic products. Even shoppers who don't ordinarily seek out organically grown produce, find themselves feeling good about picking up produce labelled as organic when it's presented as an alternative, in the belief that they're buying into something good for themselves, the environment, their local growers.

Sales of organic products in 2012 amounted to $3.5-billion, three times greater than in 2006. At least half of all consumers interviewed for a study reported buying organic products on a weekly basis. Even so, organic produce and products represent 1.7% of the total food and beverage market, but they represent the fast-growing agri-food sector in the country.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the country's food regulator, implemented new rules for organic certification; certification to be performed by accredited private agencies. In a study conducted by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in 2012, it was revealed that the system represented "nothing more than an extortion racket". Many of the agencies collect royalties on the gross revenue of the producers they inspect; why then would they deny certification?

And then, of course, there are the purported benefits aligned with organic food consumption. There's the already-mentioned pesticide quotient. What about greater nutritional value? That same Stanford study discovered no difference to exist in the nutritional content of organic as opposed to non-organic foods. Organic produce contained higher phosphorus levels, and organic milk had higher omega-three levels. Not quite entirely impressive

Does growing organically give a boost to the environment? Local food movement? Depends; half of all organic produce sold in Canada has been imported, brought to the Canadian consumer courtesy of plane, train or truck; does that help the environment? Local growers? And since organic growers bypass now-conventional agriculture (use of herbicides/pesticides, etc.) lower yields result. Requiring more land to produce a like amount of produce.

Safer to the consumer? There's always the example of a Colorado family farm whose pesticide-free cantaloupes were the cause of a listeria outbreak that killed 30 people in 2011. Takeaway? Over to you...!

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