How transparent is that organic label?
By Lars Iversen, University of Saskatchewan Student
Over the last decade, there has been an increasing demand from consumers for products that have organic labelling on the packaging. With this, there also is an increased use of propaganda being spread around the world about genetic engineering (GE). I decided to take a different approach and instead look into organic farming in Canada, the regulations of it and what is allowed in organic food production right from the organic production systems permitted substance list.
I am not here to trash organic farming, rather I think it’s important that consumers understand what is allowed in organic production and understand that there are no added nutritional benefits. Looking through the organic general principles and management standards the following excerpt is taken from the organic general principles and management standard found under Public Services and Procurement Canada: “Neither this standard nor organic products produced in accordance with this standard represent specific claims about the healthiness, safety, and nutrition of such organic products”. If the Government of Canada states that organic food does not have any added nutritional benefits over conventional, then why is it viewed by so many consumers to possess this quality?
As I was reading the general principles and management standards, I discovered in Section 6.6 Livestock Health Care that organic dairy cows can be treated with antibiotics in emergencies. This is the right thing to do in regards to animal welfare but what shocked me is that this animal is still classified as organic. This milk must be withheld for at least 30 days or twice the time the label requires. Only when an organic dairy cow is treated with antibiotics twice in one year is it stripped of this status and required to go through the 12-month transition period. To call this milk “organic” is a far stretch of what consumers perceive it to be. The screenshot below is taken from section 6.6.
A Load of Manure
Another astonishing find was the use of animal manure; it is preferred that organic farmers use the manure produced on their farm first and then from other organic producers. However, if organic manure is not commercially available they are permitted to use manure from non-organic farms provided the animals can turn 360 degrees and they are not permanently kept in the dark. A sub-note also claims priority is given to transitional or extensive livestock operations and not operations that use GE animal feed. I find it hard to determine where manure comes from and what it’s been fed once it arrives on the farm. There are no guidelines on what steps need to be taken to find organic manure so is going to the neighbour enough to say it’s not commercially available?
The missing 5%
Multi-ingredient organic products only need to be 95% organic to be classified as such. With the huge push to have genetically engineered products labelled why is there no policy in place that mandates these multi-ingredient products to be labelled “contains 5% non-organic ingredients”. If organic is as good as it claims to be how come so many consumers do not know what is actually allowed in organic production and if labelling policies are forced on genetically engineered crops, organic labelling should be more transparent to the consumer as well.
My name is Lars Iversen, I was raised on a dairy farm outside of Olds, Alberta. I am currently in my 3rd year of my bachelor of science in Agribusiness. Upon graduation, I plan to work in the agriculture industry for 4 years and then return home to the dairy farm. I am passionate about agriculture and advocate against the misconceptions commonly seen on social media. The agriculture industry needs to do a better job of communicating our passion and practices to the modern-day consumer and not let the media and other organizations form an image of our industry for us.