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Irradiated Food

Doesn’t it make your mouth water?

In talking about the meaning of organic foods, many conversations focus on what organic agriculture prohibits: pesticides, genetic modification, sewage, etc. However there is another “no” on the organics list, one thing that does not find itself talked about as often. A lot of us haven’t even heard of food irradiation – let alone why we should be against it – – but now it is time for a change.

The Radura symbol is put on all irradiated foods

So what is irradiation and why is it done to our food? Food irradiation is done in order to destroy microorganisms, bacteria, viruses and insects that might be in food to protect consumers. It is done by exposing the food to ionizing radiation. The irradiation attacks its target by damaging the organisms DNA beyond repair. It kills spoil-causing bacteria, and can stop plants from continuing in their natural ripening process. It breaks down the vitamins and nutrients in our food and diminishes its nutritional value for us, despite it still looking like normal food.

A brief history of irradiated foods tells us that there has been over 50 years of research and testing done with food irradiation starting in 1955. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the irradiation of white potatoes (1960), wheat and wheat powder (1963), meats for astronauts to consume in space (early 1970s), spices, seasonings, pork, fresh fruits, and dry and dehydrated substances (1980s), poultry (1990), and red meats (1997).

So far, Canada, unlike the United State, does not approve of food irradiation on meat or fresh produce. However, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), onions, potatoes, flour, whole wheat flour, wheat, whole or ground spices and dehydrated seasonings are approved for irradiation and sale in Canada.

When looking into seed irradiation, finding facts about it was difficult, however, research kits meant to observe the differences between normal seeds and irradiated seeds were in abundance, which is not all that comforting. One kit’s summary even includes this not-so-heart-warming quote: “Within a few weeks students will clearly note the unusual growth patterns of the irradiated seeds in comparison to the growth of the normal seeds.”

Considering that seeds are at the foundation of the food chain, should it not be a priority to keep them in their natural state, in a form that has survived for centuries, as opposed to cleaning them off with radiation and inhibiting and changing their growth patterns?

Under organic standards, irradiation isn’t allowed, and so no organic products will be exposed to radiation. However, conventional products are not the same. Conventional foods can in fact be irradiated, but they will be labelled if they have undergone this process.

If organic standards are not in favour of food irradiation, should we take into consideration that maybe we should not be eating it? If the food is tampered with and has its genetics contorted do we really want to eat that and let it polymerize into our systems? If we are doing it intentionally, which we are not always doing, wouldn’t it be like taking a bite out of a radiation bar, wouldn’t it?

Now I’m not so sure that my mouth is watering…

Find organic seed right here!

Certified organic seed is certainly available, but finding the particular variety you are looking for can sometimes be a challenge that involves spending a lot of time searching through various seed catalogues.

Canadian Organic Growers Perth-Waterloo-Wellington is proud to announce that as of today, this search will now be much easier.  We have created an online, searchable database that exclusively contains certified organic seeds.

You can browse through our online seed “catalogue” of nearly 20 organic seed suppliers at www.FindOrganicSeed.ca as of today. It’s also possible to print off a print-friendly copy for a friend without computer or internet access.

More than just a place to find sources for organic seed, www.FindOrganicSeed.ca also contains the ability to allow you to create your own seed list, which serves as an efficient launching point for when it comes time to make your seed orders, and serves as proof for a certifier to explain why an untreated seed variety had to be purchased. We’ll also be tracking information about about any varieties that are missing from our database, with the hopes of informing the sector and ultimately contributing to a greater organic seed supply in Canada.

With the support of the Agricultural Management Institute (AMI) and organic seed suppliers below, COG PWW is excited about the potential of this project. There will be ongoing changes over the next week or so as we fine-tune, add French translations, and get more suppliers online. Let us know what you think of this new tool!

Cottage Gardener

Hawthorn Farm

Urban Harvest

Canadian Organic Growers started back in the 1970s when there wasn’t much on the non-profit scene (or any scene really) linking food, farming and the environment. Since then a strong food movement has grown and people are increasingly becoming aware of these connections.

The response to Foodstock, the chef-organized event to stop the mega-quarry in Melancthon Township, demonstrates just how influential this movement has become – 20,000 people coming out to show their support for farmland preservation in unfavourable weather is huge!

Seeing such a response is encouraging, but also presents an opportunity for us to look at the entire picture, which seems to be missed in these crisis times.

Farmland preservation is incredibly important – the rate at which we are losing our A1 farmland in southern Ontario is devastating – but environmental preservation is just as important. While it’s true that if I had to decide I would rather see land protected and farmed conventionally so at least there is the possibility of transitioning it to organic practices later (a lot harder to do that to a quarry), the two do not have to be ranked.

We need to remember that farmland is more than just a place where food is produced. Such a mentality treats the land as a factory, where soil is mined of its nutrients to constantly pump out more sustenance for us. Such a system then becomes reliant on external inputs in the way of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to manage productivity. The end result is an unhealthy soil and polluted waterways. (Yes, that’s right, potatoes are a very pesticide-intensive crop. We don’t need to get into the PEI fish kills though…).

The organic approach of creating an agro-ecosystem in which to farm views farmland as a place to build soil first, and then reap the benefits of a crop produced from it. This emphasis on soil health leads to a more resilient farming system that does not have to rely on external inputs and therefore has minimal negative impact on the surrounding ecosystem (ie, the waterways are saved!).

So while we find ourselves in this farmland crisis, let’s remember that organic agriculture is not something for us to worry about after we save farmland, but presents a holistic solution to remedying our farm land (and I mean the soil and environment!) and necessarily needs to be combined in our efforts of campaigning for preservation.

This past Saturday Canadian Organic Growers Perth-Waterloo-Wellington (COG PWW) hit the road school-bus style, but it wasn’t just any school bus. Thanks to Everpure Biodiesel Coop and Sharp Bus Lines, our bus was running on 20% biodiesel produced from waste fryer oil. This effort was to demonstrate that when it comes to talking the talk, COG also walks the walk. Reducing our fossil fuel consumption was key to running our “Take a Bite Out of Climate Change” bus tour of local organic farms – organic farmers do their part, we best do ours – especially during national Organic Week.

The day was all about exploring the climate-change mitigating potential of organic agriculture and discovering the linkages between food, farming and climate change. Participants toured Ignatius Farm, Everdale Organic Farm and Mapleton’s Organic Dairy and heard from local organic farmers about the realities of adapting to unpredictable weather patterns and how diverse farm systems and organic farming practices allow them to do that.

Participants of the "Take a Bite Out of Climate Change" bus tour hear from Martin de Groot, farmer at Mapleton's Organic Dairy

While adaptation is a necessity, there is much potential for mitigation with organic farming. To facilitate discussion on this topic, we invited Ralph Martin to join us on our tour. Former founding director of the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada, he is now inaugural Loblaw Chair in Sustainable Food Production at the University of Guelph. While we travelled from farm to farm, Ralph expanded on what the farmers had said to highlight all the potential of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration that a local organic food system can achieve.

The most significant contribution organic agriculture makes to climate change mitigation? The prohibition of nitrogen fertilizer. Ralph explained that natural gas – and a lot of it – is used to produce nitrogen fertilizer. A temperature of 1000°C and a pressure of 1000 atmospheres is required to produce this synthetic input, which is then transported (ie, more fossil fuels) to several points of distribution before it finally arrives at the farm. This energy-intensive product accounts for one-third of total energy use in agriculture, so you can see how eliminating it drastically reduces fossil-fuel use, which ultimately helps to mitigate climate change. In addition, excess application of nitrogen fertilizer results in nitrous oxide emissions, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times worse than carbon dioxide. I’m sorry, I think that requires repeating – 300 times worse than carbon dioxide! With little emphasize on soil health in conventional agriculture, excess fertilizer application is often thought necessary.

In contrast, organic farming practices rely on free and natural sources of nitrogen. Legumes (peas, beans, clovers, alfalfa) are planted as “green manures,” a crop that is grown for benefits other than a crop (in this case, soil fertility). These plants have a special relationship with a particular bacteria called Rhizobia. They provide this bacteria with a bit of carbohydrates, which the Rhizobia in turn use to convert nitrogen from the air into a usable form for the plant. In this way, an on-farm fertility management system that has far greater independence from fossil fuels (tractors still required to work the land) is created.

There are many other points to convey from our tour and discussion of organic agriculture and climate change, which we’ll be discussing in further posts – stay tuned!

By Mathew Holmes, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association

When you ask people what’s special about organic food, they generally say organic farmers do not use toxic chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). That’s part of the picture, but there is much more to it.

Organic agriculture offers compelling answers to the complex issues facing the world today—whether hunger, land sovereignty, environmental degradation or the threat of GMOs in the food chain.

The organic movement started as farmers, scientists and consumers began to question the long-term legacy of the post-war intensification of chemical agriculture. Sadly, many of these concerns are just as real today as they were back then.

But truly, what can a consumer do about unethical labour practices within the multinational food system; about the prevalence of cancer among farm workers; about the toxic impacts on our environment and wildlife from industrialized agriculture; about the unsustainable use of fossil-fuel-derived synthetic fertilizers which form the basis of modern agriculture; or about the GMOs and countless chemical additives we all eat without knowing it?

It’s simple: you can support organic agriculture and help us grow a sustainable and positive alternative.

A lot of people are talking about the “100-mile diet”—about supporting local farmers and local economies. This concept is really important, but it goes both ways: if your local PEI potato farmer is contributing to the toxins in your water that make thousands of fish wash up dead after a major rainfall, this is not a good relationship. If your local meat producer isn’t following humane animal welfare standards, what does that say about your community? If your Ontario corn and soy producer is increasing the number of GMOs that are contaminating and compromising the future of food as we know it, why would they deserve your support?

Instead, let’s talk about the 100-year diet: about sustainable ecological agriculture that contributes to the resilience of our food system and food security, which increases the biodiversity and balance in our environment, and which contributes to the health and wellbeing of our children and our communities. This is what organic offers that truly sets it apart, and makes it worthy of supporting.

It is time for Canada to re-imagine agriculture as something more than just a major trade that results in food. We need to find a way to bring agriculture, health and environment together—all three are unquestionably linked.

Some governments have already done so: providing incentives for farmers who provide ecological goods and services to their communities and society in general.

In Germany, for example, several water utilities pay farmers to switch to organic methods and certification because it costs less than removing conventional farm chemicals from water supplies. Makes sense, doesn’t it? In Italy, the government requires schools to provide children with organic foods to ensure they have the best possible start in life with nutritious food from local farmers.

To make these sorts of changes here at home, it’s up to you to “go organic”.

When you see the Canada Organic logo on a food label, you know that product meets Canada’s national organic requirements, overseen by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. As organic certification is built on top of all other food regulations and food safety requirements, organic is the most regulated and inspected food system in the country.

But organic is not only that. When you see the Canada Organic logo on a food product, you know that product is from an alternative food system that is supporting farmers and processors who take the long-view of agriculture, health and environment. Choosing organic really does make a difference.

This article appeared in a special supplement to the Globe & Mail October 14th for Organic Week 2011.

The week of October 15th-22nd, 2011 is officially Organic Week in Canada, an initiative led by Canadian Organic Growers and the Canada Organic Trade Association. The annual event was created last year to celebrate the national Organic Products Regulations and the Canada Organic logo that became legal on June 30, 2009. The focus is still on celebration of a growing organic sector and promotion of the benefits of organic food and farming. You can learn more about what is going on nationally at the official Organic Week website.

Regionally, Canadian Organic Growers Perth-Waterloo-Wellington (COG PWW) and partners have coordinated a number of events to educate and engage the community with our local organic food system.

To kick off the week, Waterloo-based retailer Healthy Foods & More will be bringing the farm to the city with their “Meet the Producers” day that will provide opportunities for making connections between farmers (and even their cows) and consumers. Two organic farms – Laepple Organic Farm and Organic Oasis – will be offering such connections right on the farm with free farm tours offered as part of the week’s festivities.

COG PWW has also organized a bus tour of local organic farms themed around the climate-change-mitigating potential of local organic food and farming. The “Take a Bite Out of Climate Change” tour will visit three organic farms in Wellington County via Everpure-Biodiesel-Coop-powered bus with lots of discussion along the way led by Ralph Martin, Loblaw Chair in Sustainable Food Production at the University of Guelph.

Food documentaries, Dirt and Fresh, will be shown at various locations every weekday evening. Each screening will allow for and encourage time for discussion following the film.

For a full schedule of local events for Organic Week, check out www.cogwaterloo.ca/events.php.

Organic Meadow sings its song

To lift your organic spirits this dreary Friday, here is a video recently released by Organic Meadow. Founding chair of the coop, Ted Zettel, sings and strums along to a song he wrote in this video featuring Organic Meadow Coop members.

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