Each day TFO Canada publishes a sample of trade news on the Canadian import market along with any new, updated or changed regulations and legislations regarding international trade; countries in which TFO Canada offers services and on the export sectors which it promotes.
Organic farmers and retailers say the market is filled with imported products, as few Canadian farmers are willing to convert their crops because of high costs and modest consumer demand.
The Canadian Organic Growers Association, which hosted a conference for retailers and growers in Toronto over the weekend, says that only one per cent of food produced in Canada is organic. Laura Telford, the association's executive director, said organic food is more costly partly because of import and transportation fees.
“We need to encourage local farmers to adopt organic methods,” Telford said, noting that farmers are unlikely to change their growing methods unless there is strong consumer demand.
The COGA says there were 3,618 certified organic growers in Canada in 2005, with another 241 farmers in the process of converting their conventional farms to organic. More than 530,000 hectares of land are dedicated to growing organic food, the largest crop being wheat.
Organic farmers incur high operational costs
On his farm south of Calgary, Tony Marshall has been growing organic wheat, rye and barley for nearly 15 years. While neighbouring farmers are interested in the process, many are surprised by the costs, he said.
For example, Marshall said, he has to pay people to pick weeds out of his crops by hand; his neighbours with conventional farms can hire one person to spray the weeds. He also has to pay inspectors to certify his farm, he said.
The industry is working to convince consumers that organic food is healthier. But Phil Warman, a biochemist at Dalhousie University, said that it's been difficult to obtain long-term grants to study the subject.
“Most funding agencies don't fund more than two years, so how can you do long-term research?” he asked.
Health benefits debated
Warman said his research has found that organic blueberries and potatoes are healthier foods than their non-organic equivalents, even though vitamin levels between organic and non-organic are the same.
Ellen Desjardins, a registered dietician, also said that organic produce offers more benefits than non-organic.
“It’s not just the vitamins and minerals — there is a whole host of other chemicals in those plants that are working synergistically to give the benefit,” she said.
COGA says that organic fruits and vegetables, which contain no dyes or additives, have higher levels of antioxidants than other produce. They say that organic food contains fewer toxic residues because of their ban on synthetic herbicides, pesticides, and growth hormones.
Last September, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency proposed a new set of rules for farmers wanting to carry a new “Canada Organic” label. The federal watchdog said farmers would have to submit an application for certification with information on the substances used in production and methods of production.