Myths and Reality of Organic
- Organic is a fad.
Organic has growth steadily over the years from retail sales of less
than $1B in 1990, and $5B in 1999 to nearly $25B in 2009 in the USA.
In Canada the retail organic food sales for 2009 are estimated to be
$2B and globally over $50B in sales. While growth slowed in 2009 and
2010 to lower levels than in previous years due to the recession, indications
are that organic grew by over 5% in 2009 and continues to grow in 2010.
Acreage and number of organic farmers in Ontario also continues to grow.
In 2008, 680 farmers had 114,000 acres of certified organic crops in
Ontario. The farm gate value of organic production in Ontario was estimated
to be $126 million in 2009. However this is only about 1.3% of the total
production in Ontario, while organic food sales are about 2% of the
- Organic fresh fruits and vegetables are the main organic food
Fresh fruits and vegetables comprise approximately 35% of organic food
sales. They are also one of the first organic products that consumers
will purchase. Milk and soy drinks are also big categories for organic.
Processed foods (cereals, sauces, beverages, baby food, canned and frozen
products, etc) make up a large part of the organic food basket. Organic
grains are used in both processed foods as well as for livestock feed
for dairy, egg and meat products.
- Organic competes with conventional commodities.
Consumers want to buy organic products and the stores will supply it.
If Ontario does not produce it, it will be imported. Currently it is
estimated that over 70% of the organic fresh fruits and vegetables and
90% of the processed organic foods are imported. Approximately 75% of
these imports come from the U.S.A.
- There is no nutritional difference between organic and conventional
There have been several research studies published recently and some
have said there is no difference and others refute this, especially
for antioxidants, and Vitamin C. Organic foods were found to have higher
phosphorous levels and lower nitrate levels, both favourable to organic
foods. Studies however have not been done to link positive health aspects
to these claims. Nutrition however is not the major reason that consumers
- There are no pesticides used in organic.
One of the primary reasons that consumers buy organic is because of
the perception that organic farmers do not use pesticides and organic
products do not contain residues of pesticides. The answer here is complex.
Organic farmers chose not to use most synthetic pesticides (not allowed
by their standards) which includes most of the pesticides that over
the years have gained headlines for various negative aspects. The potential
for pesticide residues of these products tend to be of the most concern.
The organic standards do allow many natural pesticides to be used in
organic production. These include some derived from plant extracts and
plant oils (some of which are food ingredients), some derived from beneficial
microorganisms, and some other products such as sulphur, copper, kaolin
clay, potassium bicarbonate, etc.
In summary some organic farmers do use low risk pesticides when there
are no alternatives, however many small organic vegetable farms and
most organic grain and livestock farms do not use any pesticides.
- Pest Control - what can growers use?
Organic farmers are encouraged to use crop rotation, pest resistant
varieties, mechanical methods, and physical barriers such as row covers
among many other strategies to keep pests from attacking the crops.
Encouraging biodiversity and non-crop eco-reserves on farms also encourages
beneficial insects, birds and other beneficial organisms on the farm.
Organic farmers also accept some damage and lower yields.
- Organic is better for the environment.
Research in this area is still gaining momentum. Studies have found
that organic farming systems have potential for carbon sequestration.
They are energy efficient, largely due to less use of nitrogen fertilizers.
It has been found that that organically managed soils exhibit larger
earthworm, microbial and mycorrhizal populations than conventionally
managed soils. Biodiversity of wildlife species and their frequency
of occurrence have also been found to be greater on organic farms.
- Why do consumers buy it?
Organic consumers are typically looking for more than a product. They
are looking for added value traits that are linked to the product. They
may feel that their buying decision can make a difference as a solution
to their ecological concerns. They see organic food as healthier (no
pesticides), a preferred taste, or no GMOs. Many prefer to buy direct
from the farmer. Some just want to buy a new product. The main barriers
to buying organic are the higher prices, limited availability, product
quality and a lack of understanding on the meaning of organic labels.
It is interesting to note that about 50% of all organic food sales are
purchased by only 5% of consumers but over 60% purchase organic occasionally.
- Why do farmers grow organic?
The primary factors for most organic farmers is usually the health and
safety of their families and employees and environmental motivations.
Profitability and economic factors are important but most surveys put
these well down the list of reasons they became organic. Lower yields,
lack of information, costs of transition, and marketing issues all make
organic farming challenging but personally very rewarding for successful
- Where do the organic standards come from? How do we know it
Organic standards are the result of extensive consultations both nationally
and internationally. They have continued to evolve since the first organic
standards in the 1970's. Governments in over 70 countries provide oversight
to the certification processes and Canadian standards are substantially
equivalent to the major standards in the USA and Europe. Look for recognized
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