Can you find the organic aisle at your grocery store? You may have noticed more products creeping from the specialty aisles to the main displays. There's now a great consumer demand for organic foods, and the industry has answered.

Most people who choose organic do so because they want to avoid the pesticides that are sprayed on commercial crops.

A huge range of products — including some that are probably in your bathroom or kitchen — fall under the pesticide category. A pesticide is simply a chemical designed to kill a pest. They include insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Products to kill bacteria and viruses are also pesticides, including mildew remover or toilet bowl cleaner.

Organophosphorus pesticides are the type commonly used on crops. They work by interrupting the nervous system of pests. Scientists are now wondering whether these pesticides have the same effect on humans, if given a large enough dose.

Did You Know?
Strawberries are found to have the highest pesticide residues, potatoes have the lowest. Of course, it would be wrong to give people "doses" of pesticides to see what happens. So in some studies, researchers looked at farm workers who were exposed to large amounts of pesticides over many years. They found that those workers had higher rates of cancer than in the general population.

Other studies have found dangerous levels of chemicals in fish populations, because of pesticides that run from farmer's fields to nearby rivers and lakes. Pesticides have been found to be very lethal to frogs, in particular, and other amphibians, because they breathe through their skin and therefore absorb the chemicals more easily.

This doesn't mean that eating apples (or fish, for that matter) will certainly lead to illness. Eating the fruit from crops that have been sprayed is not the same as breathing in pesticides every day. And pesticides are so pervasive, or common, in our environment that it's hard to completely avoid them anyway.

What it does mean, is that that scientists, farmers, government regulators and consumers are becoming more wary of how much pesticides we use.

Did You Know?
The organic food industry in Canada has grown 15 to 20 percent each year over the past decade. But even a pesticide-free crop isn't necessary organic. To be labeled organic, produce has to be free of pesticides and preservatives, and it also can't be genetically modified (GM). You might be surprised to learn how many fruit and vegetable varieties are GM — seedless watermelons are just one example.

And there are even stricter guidelines for organic meat. Not only must the animals be free of hormones and drugs — even those prescribed by a veterinarian - but they have to eat organically as well.

Sound confusing? Well it is, even for farmers. They have to wrangle with a lot more than pests when going chemical-free. There is a staggering amount of paperwork that comes with getting and keeping organic certification.

Did You Know?
For your own garden, mix a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of dish soap and a cup of water for an effective pesticide for common bugs. But government is trying to make it easier, partly because it wants to make sure that other countries that buy food from Canada know exactly what they're getting. In September of this year, the government decided that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) would be in charge of regulating all organic farms.

So in the future, it should be easier — and cheaper — to choose organic as more and more farms are able to do so.

Learn More!

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. Click Here

CBC — certifying organic

National Pesticide Information Centre

Canadian Organic Growers

Homemade pesticide recipe. Click Here

Thanks to Colleen Kimmett for her expertise and help in answering this question.


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