About five years ago all that suddenly changed. Basic foods now made me violently ill.
The fast food burgers I loved were my enemy, as were the steaming cups of hot chocolate I quaffed each night. Both made me feel sick to my stomach, seriously unwell.
For about a year, I suffered along but gradually — and primarily due to the excellent research and massive support of my wife — I found that I could again eat pretty much anything I wanted with one major caveat — only so long as the food was organic.
This shift to organic in our family isn’t earth-shattering.
The change for my family is part of a much larger trend, with an increasing number of Canadians eating organic food. Organic foods aren’t just novelty items for old hippies-only anymore, but take up many shelves in supermarkets like Costco and Superstore. Last year about two-thirds of Canadian households bought organic foods, with a 23 per cent increase from 2020 to 2021, reports the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA)
I’m writing about this trend today in case there are any other ignorant fast food-obsessed lunkheads like my former self now suffering along on an iffy diet. They might possibly be helped by switching to organic foods and, if so, that would be life-changing for them.
It’s also the case that the organic food movement in Canada is under severe pressure, with big international companies that produce non-organic food, seeds and pesticides trying to get regulations changed in Canada, making it easier for them to produce and sell crops dependent on heavier pesticide use.
To dig into these various issues, I talked with Tia Loftsgard, executive director of COTA. She used to own an import and manufacturing business, Camino, making organic hot chocolate and chocolates.
When I told Loftsgard about my switch to organic food, she told me she’s often heard this kind of story. “There’s a lot of people when they’ve switched over to organics, they feel better … Our food has become very altered over the last many years. People are generally wanting to go back to the original taste and nutrient profile of food through buying organic.”
The main organic foods purchased are fruits, then vegetables, packaged greens, coffee, milk and baby food.
The last time Canadians all ate organic foods was pre-Second World War, Loftsgard said.
In the following decades, pesticides such as Glyphosate (Roundup) were developed that would kill unwanted weeds. This advance went hand-in-glove with new genetically modified organisms (GMOs), plants developed to survive increased levels of pesticides and herbicides, and thus greatly increase yields.
Organic agriculture in Canada is now just three per cent of farmland.
Glyphosate is an extremely useful tool for farmers and foresters, but there are health concerns around it. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group of experts classified Glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen, but that finding has been challenged by numerous other health authorities. In March 2017 and again in 2019, Health Canada reported that no pesticide regulatory authority considers Glyphosate to be a carcinogenic risk: “Our scientists left no stone unturned in conducting this review.”
A number of European countries ban GMO or GE (genetically engineered) crops, but not the U.S. or Canada. In fact, there’s been a strong industry push to allow for increased levels of pesticides. Last summer Health Canada was on the path to approving increases in the maximum residue limits for Roundup on our crops, but pulled back after intense opposition from Loftsgard’s group and others.
Health Canada is now reconsidering this request to allow for more Roundup residue, and along with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) it’s also looking at a proposal to exempt many new and/or imported GE seeds from regulation. Loftsgard’s group is pushing against such deregulation as it fears this would allow foreign producers to sell GE seeds here without the Canadian government’s oversight or stamp of approval and without any labelling identifying the seeds as GE.
Of course, consumers like me are dealing with any increase in pesticides by simply turning away from such foods. But that’s only a partial answer. Not everyone will do that or can afford to do that.
The potential for harm from overuse of pesticides isn’t a fantasy, it’s a fact. The federal government needs to protect all Canadians.