let's talk farm animals

Why are you choosing organic?

Guest Blog: Lisa McLean, Agricultural communicator

I am fortunate to surround myself with a number of strong, intelligent, critical-thinking friends. Many of them are also parents, and all of them want the very best for their families. 

Some of my friends have made a point of buying organic food whenever possible, and they love to talk about their choice. I always try to take the opportunity to have a discussion about what it means to them. Some have strong convictions about the practice of producing food in a way that uses fewer chemicals and more traditional methods. Others believe they are making a choice that will lead to better physical health.

What I find alarming, however, is that some of my friends, in their well-meaning quest for information about food and health, turn to “alternative media.” They share articles from so-called “experts” claiming all manner of conspiracy, and “little known” science, about farming practices, food processing, and regulation. Unfortunately, much of it amounts to misinformation, or half-truths, or articles that “reveal” practices that are already illegal in many parts of the world, including Canada.

It makes me concerned for agriculture’s reputation in Canada. What does it say of Canada’s food industry, and those of us who work in it, that these intelligent, educated young urban Canadians can’t trust what we professionals in the industry say about food? What does it say about our government’s food safety and security standards – which really are among the world’s most stringent – when consumers can’t trust them? And is it generally assumed that the national mainstream media sources are so disengaged that they wouldn’t break such important stories?

I, like my friends, value critical thinking. It’s important to ask questions, and always consider the source. But, I wish it was clear that the source of information about food is the source of food itself – the people who work in agriculture, and specifically, farmers.

I don’t stand to benefit personally in any way if someone chooses conventionally-produced foods over organics. Growing organic food is a business decision that takes a huge commitment on the farmer’s part, and I commend them for their opportunity to go after a niche market and capture what is often a higher price for their products. I am truly proud of my friends who have strong convictions about supporting the kind of farming practices they want to see more of. 

We are fortunate in Canada to have a choice to buy the products that best support our belief systems, values, and financial resources. As always, eating foods high in vitamins and nutrients that are supported by the guidelines in Canada’s Food Guide is an important way to be healthy.

But I worry about the misleading sources that imply my friends and their families are less likely to develop serious diseases such as cancer if they buy organic foods. And I worry about what it says about people who have already lost a loved one to disease. Are they left to wonder if somehow their loss is because they weren’t careful enough at the grocery store? If only it were so easy to keep our loved ones safe.




Posted by FFC on February 7th, 2012 :: Filed under Consumers,Food,Media,Organics,Speaking out
Tags :: , ,
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Why are you choosing organic?”

  1. David Estill
    February 8th, 2012

    Nice post. I try to go for local rather than organic- knowing your farmer is important. Also, there are some studies that local food (especially honey) can help your immune system by exposing you to local pollens.

    And fresh food tastes better- an apple picked close by tastes better than those that come from far away, even if they’re not red and pretty.

  2. David Estill
    February 8th, 2012

    And I’d be interested to hear what you think about Galen Weston Jr’s latest comments, too…

  3. Sarah Richer
    February 9th, 2012

    Great post!

    I agree wholeheartedly with your concerns about misinformation and half-truths; a female friend of mine who recently had her first child commendably puts forth great effort to purchase more than 3/4 of the food that enters her house from local (<100 miles from her home), and also strives to place only organic clothing, organic toys, and organic foods within her child's reach; before I even asked her why, she stated matter-of-factl-y and adamantly that it was because she didn't want 'poisons' being given to her kid. I understand that a mother's concern is a powerful thing, but I cringe when I read the pamphlets she references for her decision, pamphlets from farmer's markets whose words, rather than recipes for their produce or gratitude for patronage, amount to little more than fear-mongering.

    I do not feel educated enough to form an opinion on the use of herbicides, but I buy organic when possible to support pesticide-free food. As a birder and ecologist, I am aware of the continent-wide, simultaneous drop in the populations of several heretofore common bird species, namely the aerial foragers guild (whippoorwills, nighthawks, swifts, swallows) that specialize in eating insects on the wing. When that many species across that wide an area are all decreasing at the same time, and the one thing they share in common is their forage, the issue points to their food supply.
    That, and the broad application of pesticide use has been resulting in pesticide-resistant populations of invertebrate agricultural pests - bad news all around.

  4. Rob Wallbridge
    February 9th, 2012

    Interesting post, Lisa. If you ask me, the reason many consumers don’t trust what professionals in agriculture tell them is because for the past decade, while organic food was the fastest growing sector in the industry, mainstream agriculture did everything in its power to ignore and denigrate the organic option. It’s only been in the past couple of years that ag groups have reluctantly admitted that consumer choice is a good thing - before that the prevailing attitude was basically “shut up and eat what we grow for you.”

    You’ll still find organics under attack at most mainstream agricultural conferences (unless the speaker is a marketing guru) - many keynotes are still delivered by speakers with close ties to the chemical and biotech industries whose vested interest is to minimize knowledge about organics. If you want to increase your credibility, a good place to start would be to assert independence from the corporations who are in the business of selling the things people don’t want to see in their food - as you said, consider the source!

    You are correct that there is a lot of misinformation and exaggeration in the “alternative media,” but it exists on both sides of the argument, and I spend a lot of my time trying to bring balance to the discussion (albeit I have my own biases). Case in point - I’m not sure I would consider the President’s Cancer Panel a “misleading source” on reducing the risk of environmental cancers, but the issue is certainly too complex to lay guilt trips on people for their purchasing decisions.

    But let’s be honest - most agriculture professionals are woefully under-informed or misinformed about the organic sector, either by choice or by lack of exposure. It’s changing, but there’s still a long ways to go. Your post is a step in the right direction!

  5. Julie
    February 9th, 2012

    Good post Lisa. I try to eat some local food and organic fruits, vegetables and dairy when I can and am in the process of trying to learn more about the farms in my area. I think that some places may not be certified organic but I may wish to support their farm and their farming practices.

    There are small studies to show that there may be higher nutrients or less pesticide residue in organic food; but I understand there are studies that can refute this also.

    Personally, I would like to decrease my exposure to synthetic pesticides and the residues that may be left on my fruits and vegetables. I do have some sensitivities to fruit (cherries, apples) that are not organic and do wonder about the difference in the pesticides/insecticides that may be used?
    And for some foods I would like to err on the side of caution and do look to the Environmental Working Groups list regarding pesticide residue: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/

    It will be interesting to see where the research goes in the future.

Leave a Reply

Type your comment in the box below: