You may see a sticker slapped on a banana or apple in the grocery store labeling it as “organic,” but do you know what it actually means for a particular food to be organic? There are several factors that can play into what makes a food organic or non-organic. Organic food is grown and produced without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, growth hormones, or irradiation.
Ontario’s organic food is regulated under the Canadian Organic Standards guidelines, and closely monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Organic fruits and veggies are grown without pesticides, instead using natural control methods for insects, with natural fertilizers, and with natural methods of controlling weeds such as crop rotation, hand weeding, mulching and tilling.
Check out some of the common terms thrown around concerning organic food and what they mean below!
GMO vs. Non-GMO
GMOs are genetically modified organisms, and refer to fruits and veggies grown from a seed that has been altered before planting. This could mean the plant’s DNA has been altered in an unnatural way, or its genes contain DNA from another type of plant. GM foods are grown and sold in Canada, though they are heavily tested and regulated by Health Canada. While food is labelled as containing GMOs, they will state if they are GMO-free; so if your goal is to eat as healthy as possible, keep an eye out for that GMO-free label!
Antibiotics and Growth Hormones
Growth hormones are only used in beef cows within Canada. Growth hormones are not used in milk-producing cows, or in poultry and pork production. The hormones produce a leaner beef at a lower cost, as they help the cow convert food into more muscle.
Antibiotics are used to treat sick animals, prevent and manage disease, and promote growth. While regulations are in place for both the use and levels permitted of antibiotics and growth hormones, there are small traces of the substances left in food. If you’re not comfortable with either antibiotics or growth hormones, organic meat and animal by-products do not use either in their production.
Pesticides: Herbicides and Insecticides
Pesticides are the chemicals used to treat crops to prevent diseases and pests. Herbicides control the spread of weeds, and insecticides control insects. Pesticides are used directly on fruits, veggies, and grains while they’re growing, therefore the finished products (as well as things like cereals and crackers made from the grains), may have traces of pesticides. Products like meat, fish, dairy and eggs, though not directly in contact with pesticides, may contain traces of them as the animals that produced the food may have consumed products grown with pesticides.
Pesticides are closely monitored and controlled by Health Canada, but you should always wash fruits and vegetables before consumption. To completely avoid pesticides, definitely buy organic fruits, vegetables, pastas, crackers, cereals, flour, meat, milk, and eggs.
Benefits of Eating Organic
The main benefit of eating organic is, of course, not introducing synthetic and foreign chemicals into your body. There are, however, many environmental benefits to choosing organically grown and produced products over those with pesticides and GMOs. Organic farming is better for the environment, as it reduces soil erosion and increases soil fertility, and avoiding pesticides protects nearby birds and small animals.
Organic meat and animal by-products also tend to come from organizations more concerned with animal welfare. Organic meat and dairy will feed their livestock organic feed, prevent disease not through antibiotics but through clean housing, rotational grazing, and a healthy diet, and livestock will live healthier lifestyles, such grazing for at least four months a year, and free-range chickens.
Affording Organic on a Budget?
It is possible, though admittedly involves a little extra effort than just picking up what’s available at the nearest grocery store, to eat organically while on a student budget. To get the most bang for your buck, buy in season. Fruits and veggies in season will be the freshest, as well as the least expensive (and points if you buy locally too!). Don’t forget about the wealth of organic produce that is a farmer’s markets, which pop up all around the city in the spring, summer, and fall. Don’t settle for what’s provided at your nearest store–shop around! And, if you have the space, consider growing some things yourself. A backyard garden, or perhaps a couple indoor or window-box plants can yield you a couple organic and free fruits and veggies, and you’ll have the satisfaction of eating something you made yourself, from seed to meal!
– Emily Hotton