Tuesday, October 17, 2006

IMPRINT: Organic Roots

Avian flu; growth hormones; GMO’s; pesticides; use of human manure; antibiotic animal resistance; mad cow disease; water and air pollution; inhumane treatment of livestock- these are just a few of the buzz words often associated with large scale agriculture practices. The images of industrial farms and their unhealthy produce, diseased meat, environmentally degrading farming methods and the lack of equitable social values are generating such a fuss that the demand for an alternative is growing at a healthy pace. That alternative is organic foods.

This desire for organic is nothing new. In fact, organic farming has been around for almost 40 years in North America. When the hippies in the late 60’s learned that the same companies that produced napalm and Agent Orange also produced pesticides used in farming, they started up small farms offering a healthier substitute to the “plastic foods” found in the supermarkets. The principles of organic farming were simple - produce food in harmony with nature, using no chemicals, while treating the animals in a humane manner, thus reducing pollution and providing a socially sustainable farm.

The grassroots movement (and it was a movement) of organic foods has remained relatively small, only found in speciality health shops, direct from farms or at the local market, until recently that is.

In 1990 when organic food was officially recognised by the US government, the organic market has grown 20% every year since. In 2002, after 12 years of discussing what the standards for certifying an organic farm should be, there has been an explosion in the sales of organic foods. Today, organic food is a $14 billion/year industry in Canada, and there are no signs of slowing down. This is largely due to the fact that large corporations, such as Kellogs, bought smaller, already successful organic businesses, such as Kashi breakfast cereals. Where there is a market sell to, industrialists will find a way to make profit.

Something that started out as a distinctive alternative to mass produced foods, is now getting into bed with multi-national corporations. Is this a good thing? Should organic strawberry ice cream available in Wal-Mart be considered organic? Some say yes, some say no.

There are the organic purists who think that the idea of processed foods goes against the founding principles of what organic is. Processing food increases the number of middle men between the farmer and the consumer, and often adds additives to the food that take away from the pure state organic food is meant to be in. Also, organic farming is meant to be small scale.

Alternatively, there are those who state that bringing organics mainstream is a good thing. If you sell as much organic food as possible, in the supermarkets where Canadians shop at, you will protect as much land as possible. The reduction of pesticide use increases water quality and soil quality.

Should you buy the organic prewashed lettuce from the California valley, packed into plastic bags by underpaid Mexican immigrant workers and shipped in a carbon spewing truck which probably killed a couple deer on its way to Waterloo? Or is it better to buy the local, non certified organic lettuce from the Wednesday UW Farm Market in the ES Courtyard? I think the time has come redefine what organic is and most importantly to include the distance travelled to reach your table. I guess that’s an official segway into next week’s column. So stay tuned for a discussion on the importance of buying local.

1 comment:

Darcy Higgins said...


Want to commend you on that article.
Can't wait for next week's!
Last market.

You should know if you're not aware that te next issue of Alternatives (coming soon) is a food issue and is going to be good. Even includes a local food debate.
I'll start blogging more soon and we can link to each other's columns and such.

Darcy Higgins