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Don’t waste money on organic food

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WINNIPEG — As the holidays approach, Canadians are spending more time purchasing and preparing foodstuffs for their family tables. They’re also looking for appealing, tasty, nutritious goods that will not upset their budgets.

Be prepared for the seasonal, united organic-food-movement appeal, calling on Canadians to buy certified-organic turkey, organic vegetables and fruit, organic breads and pastries, organic milk and meats, organic nuts, and even organic booze.

But is organic food purer, tastier and more nutritious?

A recent in-depth report on the Canadian organic sector published by The Frontier Centre points out that there is no systematic, empirical proof that food certified as organic is purer, tastier or more nutritious.

It turns out that a bevy of federally regulated, for-profit, organic certifying agencies sell the privilege to organic farmers, brokers, traders and processors to label their products "certified organic" in Canada.

And with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) logo affixed to their products, premiums of 100 to 200 per cent are then garnered without a single test being performed.

It’s all just a glorified, bureaucratic, tax-subsidized, public-private, abused honour system.

The politicized privilege to be deemed "certified-organic" in Canada is available to anyone, whether here in Canada or anywhere in the world. To qualify, just pay fees and fill out paperwork, even if you’re in China, Mexico or Argentina. The honesty of the applicants is not verified. When staff at the CFIA finally carried out some secret tests on organic products, they were so taken aback by the results that they actually tried to suppress them.

There was a time when the CFIA considered organic testing. Testing is, after all, how the regular food system is kept safe. But the idea of applying science to the organic industry in Canada was dead-on-arrival thanks to the organic lobby; in spite of the fact that the cost of testing is one tenth that of the current paper-based system of record-checking.

By relying exclusively on paperwork, Canada’s for-profit organic certifiers benefit from highly lucrative revenues which, in turn, provide donations to activist organic groups which may explain their opposition to testing in spite of support for the idea from rank-and-file Canadian organic farmers.

In addition to up-front application and inspection fees, organic farmers and processors operating under CFIA "rules" are forced to pay royalties to their private certifiers between one and three per cent on their gross revenue from each and every transaction. It is akin to the franchise fees that fast-food restaurant owners pay to their head offices, with the difference that Canadian organic farmers and processors are paying for the use of the CFIA’s logo on their finished products, not the private certifier’s. And yet, the CFIA requires no testing. None.

As every lifestyle section in newspaper across the land pays homage to the certified-organic turkey and all the fixings (never asking whether it’s worth it or whether it even helps a single Canadian farmer), remember that private organic certifiers only enforce the administrative rules of organic production in this country. While independent inspectors make pre-announced visits once a year to each farm and facility, they don’t do any testing. They only fill out paperwork.

In addition to organic foods, you’ll also be hit with the idea of bringing in the New Year with certified-organic booze. Such claims could not possibly get any more absurd. None of the alleged mystical attributes of organic barley or grapes even has a chance of surviving the fermentation and distillation processes. So save your money.

Whether you’re someone who only "goes organic" during festive occasions, or one of the millions of Canadians who buys organic food on a regular basis believing it’s purer, more nutritious and more sustainable than regular food, let the buyer beware. The "organic" label doesn’t necessarily give you what you think you are buying.

If you really want to help Canadian organic farmers, buy directly from them as you’re not likely going to find their products on grocery-store shelves this Christmas season.

Otherwise, you may want to save the money for the children’s toys instead.

Mischa Popoff is research associate at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and co-author of Canada’s Organic Nightmare.

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