FOOD MATTERS: No effective inspection system for organic produce
The Romans said “caveat emptor,” meaning “buyer beware,” placing the responsibility on consumers to protect themselves by using good judgment.
What we need from governments are standards using science-based information, transparency in labelling and penalties for carelessness and fraud.
Because “organic” includes offshore as well as local, “certified organic” is not good enough for me. I want both organic and local and if I have faith in my local farmer I am satisfied to buy direct even if the products are not “certified organic.”
Regulations apply only to producers who want to use the Canada Organic label and to those who sell organic products across provincial, territorial or international borders.
Canadian organic standards are based on seven general principles: protect the environment; maintain long-term soil fertility; recycle materials and resources; provide attentive care for livestock; careful processing, and handling methods; and use of renewable resources in locally organized agricultural systems.
Sounds good, but there’s no effective inspection system from soil to customer.
At the end of the day we still rely on the integrity of farmers and processors not to cheat us. The closer the operation is to where we live, the more likely it is that our food is as described. Our best insurance is to eat locally grown foods and get to know our farmers.
For example, an Australian beef farmer caught the wrong carcases returned to him from the local abattoir, and tracked down his meat already sold as “organic” although he had not sought organic certification. I doubt it happened to him again.
If you can’t visit your local farm, you can take up references from local people you trust.
We can’t do that with offshore products.
Apart from the crimes against the environment of shipping food thousands of miles, we have no way of knowing whether it comes from giant monoculture factory farms using large amounts of trucked in inputs. Individual areas of monoculture within farms may be “certified organic” according to standards about which we know nothing.
More than half of all organic food purchased in Canada is imported. Food coming into Canada is not tested.
The current B.C. list of approved international organic certifiers included nine from the U.S., and one each from Italy and Argentina.
A Canadian list included Albania, Algeria, Burkina Faso, China, Colombia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Mexico and Sierra Leone.
In a 2011 set of Canadian Food Inspection Agency spot tests, nearly 24 per cent of 178 organic apples tested contained pesticide residue.
It’s a far cry from the days when my grocer and greengrocer knew personally the farmers and market gardeners from whom they bought food. I wonder how they did that in the city of two million where I grew up.
Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.