What is Organic?

The question is seemingly simple, yet to say confusion exists among consumers as to what “organic” means is an understatement.  A big thanks goes to those brilliant marketers who have mined almost every English word that connotes organic – “natural”, “naturally raised”, “free range”, “cage free”, “hormone-free”, “additive-free” – each meaning nothing specific and far from being certified “Organic”.


To top it all off, it seems the majority of products in your average grocery store these days has a farm name branded on it, even though the reality is the source doesn’t resemble in any way a “farm” like you would picture in your head.
When it comes to meat, what the heck is a “natural” cow anyways? Isn’t the fact that it was breathing at one point make it “natural”?
In 2009, new federal laws took effect which define what organic products are and how they are to be labeled in Canada. The use of the term “organic” is governed by Organic Products Regulations, 2009 (SOR/2009-176). As a consumer of organic foods, the most important part of the federal legislation are the General Principles and Management Standards which govern how organic crops and animals are to be raised (CAN/CGSB-32.310-2006).

Organic agriculture is a holistic approach to production which promotes and enhances biodiversity, protects long-term soil health and respects ecological balance through the use of environmentally and ecologically sustainable practices.

Organic production is designed to:

  • Respect the environment through the responsible usage of soil, water and air, minimizing agricultural pollution
  • Protect the long-term health of the soil, encouraging soil biological activity and minimizing soil degradation and erosion
  • Provide livestock with humane living conditions for their health and well-being
  • Recycle materials and resources whenever possible and reduce the use of non-renewable resources

Organic production does not permit the use of:

  • Synthetic pesticides
  • Synthetic fertilizers
  • Sewage sludge
  • Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
  • Ionizing radiation
  • No growth hormones for animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products

Organic Really Means

No Synthetic Pesticides or Synthetic Fertilizers
Organic production does not permit the use of synthetic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, reducing the amounts of toxins on organic food and in the environment

Environmental
Organic agriculture respects ecological balance, aiming to reduce the use of non-renewable resources and create more sustainable systems

Protection of Water Quality
Organic growers and processors use practices that reduce chemical runoff and preserve ground water quality

Biodiversity
Organic practices aim to preserve biodiversity through use of traditional seed varieties, crop rotation, and respect for the natural diversity of the local environment

Community
Many organic farms are small, independently run farms which aim to produce food for their local communities. The organic philosophy of sustainability encourages consumers to buy local organic produce whenever possible

Animal Welfare
Organic production requires that farmers use humane animal husbandry practices, including giving livestock access to open-air runs. The use of synthetic growth hormones is not permitted.

No Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Organic standards do not permit the use of genetic engineering in organic production. Eating organic is a good way to avoid consuming genetically modified foods.

Standards
Certification standards assure consumers that organic foods and products have been grown and handled in accordance with sustainable procedures without the use of synthetic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

Taste
Taste is indeed a matter of personal opinion. However, many consumers of organic product insist that organics simply taste better, with intense flavours unmasked by pesticide residues or wax. Not a believer? Try organic for yourself!

Clearing The Air

What does organic really means?Q: What do the terms “Naturally Raised”, “Natural”, “Pasture-Raised”, “Grain-fed”, “Grass-fed”, and all the other terms I see, mean?
A: Nothing. How’s that for an answer!

The reality is that other than the term “Organic” – with a capital “O”, from a source that has been properly certified pursuant to the laws linked above, all other terms have no legal meaning. So, if you want to know what you are buying, you need to ask questions to determine the true meaning of the branding being used.

We are not saying that all products labelled “Naturally Raised”, “Natural”, or other terms don’t have any validity associated. What we’re saying is don’t be afraid to ASK QUESTIONS.

As far as products sold on RealFoodToronto.com or in The Healthy Butcher, if a product is not Certified Organic, we can tell you exactly how a product was produced… then you can make your buying decision based on the facts.

We also want to make specific reference to the term “Grassfed”, which has been thrown around recently far too often. Please click here for a complete article on what “Grassfed” means (or at least should mean.)