“Organic” is becoming a household term these days, but it’s one with little understanding behind it. Even in the environmental programs that I’ve taught and been a part of, organic food has always been the focus – but with little explanation of how organic is actually healthier and better for the environment. Mostly, it’s just “Eat organic because it’s better. Why? It just is.” This isn’t the way to educate people on food choices – to educate others, you need to educate yourself first.
I also hear “fair-trade” being tossed in along with the organic label. This term is understood even less than organic, but is thrown around almost as much. I have to admit, even after being conscious of the term for many years, I still have little understanding of what it actually means in terms of consumer products. All I really know is that it has something to do with coffee, cocoa, and bananas. Let’s look into these terms a bit more and see what we can come up with.
What do organic and fair-trade mean?
Organic: In Canada, organic food must adhere to regulations and inspected by a CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) certified inspector. In general, organic farming prohibits use of synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, synthetic drugs, and other synthetic materials. Livestock must be fed organic feed and raised organically. This doesn’t mean that the farm is banned from using any pesticides or fertilizers! There is a list of permitted substances that the farmer is allowed to use, and these products adhere to the organic guidelines. Products that are certified organic in Canada are labelled with this logo:
Fair-Trade: Fair-trade is a different way of doing business with producers. It’s an international economic trading system, with each country involved managing its own end of the trade. In general, fair-trade establishes long-lasting relationships between growers and traders, safe labour standards for growers (including living wages), and sustainable practices. The companies that buy fair-trade ingredients (including coffee, cocoa, cotton, sugar, and many more) must set up a long-term contract with the grower. This ensures financial stability for the grower, which is often hard to find for farmers of these crops. Canadian products with the label below contain fair-trade ingredients. To obtain this certification, Fairtrade Canada (a member of Fairtrade International) must license the company.
Why are they more expensive?
The main reason for increased prices on organic and fair-trade products is certification. The farmer must be inspected and certified as organic or fair-trade. The frequency of inspection depends on location and governing body, but this adds another cost to the product. For organics, some permitted substances may be more expensive or difficult to obtain, which adds on to the cost. To avoid cutting the farmer’s profit margin, the price is raised at the consumer end. Fair-trade products are inherently more expensive for this reason as well – since the producer is getting more money for their product, this raised price is passed on to the consumer.
Can any product be made organic or fair-trade?
Of course! As long as the grower is adhering to the proper regulations, any product can be considered organic and/or fair-trade. The biggest hurdle is being certified as either of these things. The grower must be inspected by a regulating body, and have their product labelled. Some crops are less conducive to being grown organically (eg. those that are very susceptible to pesticides, since only natural and permitted pesticides can be used), which presents another challenge in being labelled.
Where can I find out more?
The Canadian Organic Growers website has a lot of information about organic products and organic growing in Canada.
For quick information about organic growing in Ontario, check out this OMAFRA factsheet.
Fairtrade Canada breaks down the Canadian licensing program on their website.
Fairtrade International is the governing body for fair-trade products. Check out their site for information on each country’s licensing program.
With a little bit more information in my head about organic and fair-trade products, I will definitely be considering my purchases a little bit more. Organic and fair-trade alternatives can be found in most grocery stores. Remember to think about your purchases – put some thought into your decision, no matter what you decide!
Emma — The Suburban Aggie
PS. Happy National Agriculture Day, friends! It’s celebrated in the US, but that doesn’t give me any reason not to celebrate in Canada as well. If you ate today, thank a farmer!