The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
March 22, 2007
Title: Is Organic Worth The Price?
Producer/Host: Jon Steinman
Transcript: Pat Yama
Jon Steinman: And welcome to another edition of Deconstructing Dinner, your weekly guide to more educated eating. This program is produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia, I'm Jon Steinman and I'll be your host for the next hour.
Is Organic Worth the Price? That's the title of today's broadcast and that was a question put in front of a panel of individuals at the February 2007 Growing Up Organic Conference held in Toronto. The conference was organized by the Canadian Organic Growers - a national, member-based education and networking organization.
Such a question of whether organic food is worth the price is certainly the pressing issue on the minds of many Canadians as organic food rapidly increases its presence on grocery store shelves. At a conference attended by advocates of organic farming, it could be expected that those invited as speakers or panelists would in many cases just be preaching to the choir. But within the panel of individuals who were posed this question of whether organic food is worth the price, was the Executive Director of Crop Protection Chemistry at CropLife Canada - an industry funded trade association representing the developers, manufacturers and distributors of pesticides and plant biotechnology. So, needless to say, the presence of this individual at an organic conference, provided for some interesting dialogue.
Through the assistance of Ryerson University's campus radio station CKLN, Deconstructing Dinner was able to record the entire conference. And I thank Heather Douglas for spending the day there, and gathering the material that you will shortly hear.
The voices that will be heard on today's broadcast consists of Wayne Roberts of the Toronto Food Policy Council, Dr. Ann Clark of the University of Guelph, Peter MacLeod of CropLife Canada, Ellen Desjardins, a public health nutritionist and registered dietitian with the Region of Waterloo Public Health department, and we will hear voices of those in the audience, as they pose questions to the panelists.
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Again, today's broadcast will be featuring a session from the 2007 Growing Up Organic Conference held in February 2007 in Toronto. The conference was organized by the Canadian Organic Growers and more info on the organization can be found at cog.ca.
The final session of the conference consisted of a panel titled "Is Organic Worth the Price?" The Toronto Food Policy Council's Wayne Roberts was invited to moderate the panel. Wayne was a featured voice here on Deconstructing Dinner back on March 16th 2006. Wayne is also the senior author of "Real Food for a Change" and "Get a Life." And here's Wayne Roberts introducing the panelists.
Wayne Roberts: Thank you for treating this conference as a worthwhile way to spend a day and for staying around right through to the end. I'm sure all the organizers really appreciate it. I think we have a minimum of five and actually I'm going to the make the case - six things to celebrate here today that I'd like you to think about as we go through the last session.
The first is I think we have now reached the point where we can say that Canadian Organic Growers have become top flight, professional event organizers (audience claps). The meals, the registration, the breaks, the whole flavour of the event I think really testifies to the maturity of the movement and we've come a long way there. And you know my daughter's Science teacher asked the class last year - what was the most important invention in the history of the human species and the answer is not the wheel or fire. And the answer was buoyancy. You know that things float. And when you have a buoyant audience things float a lot better and so I think we have also come to great maturity as an audience. Because there was a time I think you have to admit when the organic movement was going known for cranks (audience laughs). And now we are known as a very exciting and dynamic group to spend the day with. So I want to say that that's something to celebrate too.
Second we got a great hotel, publically-owned by University of Toronto New College which is a real pioneer in the sustainability and equity issues. So the money from the movement is staying within the movement. And you may know, I think it's been announced, that Jocko is one of the great chefs who's leading the whole way towards sustainability of food procurement in Toronto and actually, to be honest, around the world. So that's another great thing to celebrate.
Thirdly, we're right behind Toronto City Hall where the mayor has just announced that he wants to make Toronto the greenest city in the world (audience claps). And without taking anything away from that claim he needs a lot of help around how organic can contribute to that. And so we've got a great cause and we're in a great location to start to spread the message.
Fourthly, we have had incredible hosting from Mary Wiens who brings such a warmth and passion as she does it on daily radio and to this event and it's just given us a real lift-up and also this speech by Wendy Mesley that tells you that we are now on the radar. And this is another great thing to celebrate (audience claps).
Fifthly we have had, I think, some really great dialogue. This is not just us talking to ourselves. There are some hard scientists, there are farmers, there are educators and public health and there are people from CropLife. And so we've got quite a diversity of people who are not normally talking to each other and I think it's great that COG invited such a wide range of people and I think it's great that such a wide range of people accepted the invitation. I'm looking to reverse invitations in the near future. We are now, if I can say to CropLife and others, we are now engaged. Not engaged to get married but we are engaged as in the gear is engaged and we are in dialogue. And this discussion is not going to be resolved without us talking to one another and giving and taking from each other. So it's great that we're having this. I hope you accept this last session in that spirit.
I try to consider my job in Toronto Public Health, they say my job is agitation. No I say my job is issue management (Wayne and audience laughs). And by that I mean what Ghandi meant which he said that first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they debate you, then you win. That's the series (audience claps). So we need to have dialogue in order to further any discussion.
And last what I think that we've learned today, and I especially learned it from the last session is we're learning to reframe issues. And perhaps we might even say that the issue isn't organic versus non-organic, as you finish the discussion on childcare, but it is personal development, childhood development, leadership development. These are the issues and organic makes a contribution to all of them.
And that leads us into the question for this final session, quite properly I think - is organic worth the price? And we may ask that in a couple of ways. One is, can we afford to buy organic which is a question I'm sure everybody, even people with the comfortable incomes ask themselves. Or perhaps we might ask the question slightly different - like can we afford not to buy organic? which is a question very few people ask in that way. Or perhaps we could reframe it to this question - how do we value food? That is really the issue, I think.
We have three great and important speakers on this issue and I think you know at least have heard of all of them. Ann Clark, an incredibly courageous agricultural science professor at the University of Guelph who opened the door to organic being considered a legitimate field of agricultural science and we owe her an incredible debt and thank her for coming here today (audience claps). Peter MacLeod from CropLife Canada who is the Executive Director of the section dealing with research subjects and is going to be posing some very sharp and interesting questions to us. And Ellen Desjardins you who have already heard earlier today who has been a real leader in the Ontario Public Health Association in bringing food security subjects to the attention of that body and putting organic in that framework and along with Waterloo Public Health which is perhaps the leading public health agency in the whole province. So, really a great work and since she's already spoken before and doesn't want to hog too much time she may just speak very quickly and then open it up for the floor. So, if people don't mind I'm going to turn this over to Ann. Thank you (audience claps).
Jon Steinman: And that was Wayne Roberts of the Toronto Food Policy Council as he introduced the panelists at the final session of the Growing Up Organic Conference held in Toronto in February 2007. The question placed before the three panelists of this final session was, Is Organic Worth the Price?. As Wayne Roberts just introduced, the first panelist is Dr. Ann Clark - Associate Professor in Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph. A native of California, Dr. Clark studied at the University of California at Davis and at Iowa State University. Her academic career started at the University of Alberta, but has been at Guelph since 1983. Dr. Clark currently teaches Crop Ecology, Crops in Land Reclamation, Managed Grasslands and several courses in Organic Agriculture.
And here's Ann Clark, and her reasons as to why organic is worth the price.
Ann Clark: Okay I'm told I have five minutes so I'm going to try and do this fast. I want to start with the notion that conventional agriculture is resource consumptive. And in particular I want to contrast how different, how much better organic is and how much similarity there is between organic and conventional farming. So we'll start by stating the obvious, conventional Ag is resource consumptive both in terms of what it uses up. Obviously fossil fuels, biodiversity but I would also suggest farmers and farm communities and what it leaves behind. Certainly there's pollution, there's contamination, all the usual things but also displaced and disillusioned people. So I think there are at least two dimensions of comparison that I want to make - one, ecological and the other economic.
So, is organic an advantage over conventional on the ecological sphere? Unquestionably yes, up to the farm gate. After the farm gate there is no advantage to organic. It costs as much to ship a ton of organic cauliflowers as it does conventional cauliflower. So, I think this is a really important point others are better versed - Wayne and others on buying local and so on so I'm not going to say more on that. But I want to make it quite clear that the advantage in terms of energy use, in terms of greenhouse gas production and so on, of organics is limited up to the farm gate. And roughly two-thirds of all the energy that we use in agriculture is post-farm gate so the advantages are limited there.
Organic is designed to internalize its cost of production. Conventional is praised and rewarded and affirmed for externalizing its costs of production. So for example, just to put some numbers onto that. At Iowa State researchers have found that the externalized costs of U.S. agriculture range from 5 to 17 billion dollars a year. Externalized costs beings things like phosphorous in the Great Lakes. If you're a farmer you don't get a bill at the end of the year for your contribution to phosphorous in the Great Lakes or your contribution to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in some hospital bills for kids with earaches and all that. You're not charged for those things but your actions cause them.
Closer to home, Rod MacRae's calculated that Ontario agriculture's externalized a $145 million a year. So growing things conventionally in Ontario externalizes $145 million a year to society and the environment involuntarily. There's nothing you can do to avoid it. So these are real concerns and organics certainly has the advantage there because it is designed to internalize its costs. And we can talk all about that later about leeching and erosion and fossil fuels. Fossil fuel consumption on a farm is considerably less on organic farms than conventional. Soils are improved rather than destroyed. I mean all the usual myths that you've probably heard.
I was interested, I calculated over the five million pounds of meat that have been recalled in the U.S. in the last two years, mostly for listeria and most of the rest for E-coli, less than 0.1% of it was organic. All the rest of it was conventionally produced, conventionally processed and about 80% of it came from just two or three incidents, two or three events. So there's an issue of bigness and a pathology of bigness that organic is getting sucked into and needs to be very aware of or they will lose what advantages we have if we let our self go down that same path.
Now economics... you can't have agriculture without farmers. It is penny-wise and pound foolish to attack organic farming because organic food costs more. More worthy of attack are the reasons why conventional farmers have been forced from their land, year after year after year. Policies which have encouraged concentration and consolidation of power at both the input and output ends of the agricultural chain have literally enabled agri-business to take more than a 100%, pay attention now, more than 100% of the dollar value of the agrifood system is now being sucked out at both ends leaving farmers to lose money and lose equity. Just to illustrate this for the year 2004, the top AG chemical companies - six AG chemical companies had a net profit of more than $10 billion in just Canada. In that same year, the 230,000 farmers of Canada and that includes conventional as well as organic lost $7.5 billion a year. So the chemical companies alone netted, that's a net profit, 10 billion. The agricultural community lost 7½ billion. And this is true every one of the other businesses along the way, inputs and outputs.
How can organics insulate itself from this? Certainly by internalizing in decision making that reduces dependence on purchased inputs. Fair enough we have some advantage. But we are very vulnerable at the other end in that you're seeing this already and it certainly has already happened in California, the consolidation and the concentration in the buying end is going to squeeze you at that end. So I think that the point I want to leave you with is that organic farming has some very clear advantages, has the potential to be a superior direction in the future but we are mimicking to an alarming degree, the same problems that have happened already and have traumatized our conventional neighbours and if we don't smarten up, we're going to have the same problem.
So with that hopefully provocative comment, I would be happy to answer questions later (audience claps).
Jon Steinman: And that was Dr. Ann Clark, Associate Professor in Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, and the coordinator of the new Major in Organic Agriculture being offered at the school. You can learn more about the program on their website at organicag.uoguelph.ca.
And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner. On today's broadcast we are listening to segments of a session recently held in Toronto at the Growing Up Organic Conference - a one-day conference hosted and organized by the Canadian Organic Growers. A national membership-based education and networking organization representing farmers, gardeners and consumers in all provinces. Deconstructing Dinner was on hand to record the conference.
Is Organic Worth the Price. That is the title of today's broadcast, and the title of the session we are currently listening to. The question was posed to three panelists with the second panelist being Peter MacLeod. As mentioned earlier, it would be expected that an organic conference would consist of a lot of preaching to the converted, but Peter MacLeod represents an organization that is in direct opposition to organic agriculture. And that is because Peter MacLeod is the Executive Director of Crop Protection Chemistry at CropLife Canada - a trade association representing the developers, manufactures and distributors of pesticides and plant biotechnology. The members of the association are perhaps familiar to listeners of Deconstructing Dinner - companies like Bayer, Cargill, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta to name just a few.
And here's Peter MacLeod answering the question Is Organic Worth the Price.
Peter MacLeod: First of all, thanks Dr. Clark for that thought-provoking starter. First I'd like to thank the organizers for inviting me. I certainly appreciate the invitation, the chance to come here and share with you some thoughts that I have on organic food and the question is organic food worth the price. I've heard a lot of jokes this week from my colleagues about the fox and the henhouse and jokes like that but I'm certainly I'm glad to be here and share with you today. And again, my name's Peter MacLeod and I work for CropLife Canada, an organization that represents the manufacturers of pesticides and biotechnology products.
We have a very timely subject in front of us - is organic food worth the price? Just today I saw the headline in the March issue of Reader's Digest - Does Organic Mean Healthier. So I haven't had a chance to take a look through it but it certainly is a topic that is in front of ourselves on a day-in, day-in basis. And I think before I get started, generally whether you choose organic or conventional food is a matter of each individual's choice. The focus that I have today is to ensure that people when they're making that choice that they're doing so in an informed way, based on scientific fact and evidence. So with that I'll get started.
First a couple more of my thoughts. The companies that pay my salary and I work for produce both synthetic and organic pesticides. So they're in both markets and I feed my family both organic and conventionally grown food. Most of its conventionally grown but there are some organic cereals and certainly the mixed greens that you can buy readily in the supermarket are very attractive, at least from a convenience standpoint for me and I do serve that to my family. The key I think overall is providing a good variety of the recommended amounts of foods. And I put in brackets there and "encouraging consumption" because usually my family actually getting my children to eat the green food is usually half the battle. But for me quality, tastes and costs are important factors and I think for most consumers they're important factors.
So organic food as you probably heard, I haven't had the opportunity to be here the whole day but I'm sure you've heard and know that organic food is prominently displayed in Loblaws, even in Walmart, it's certainly hit the mainstream. There's good things quite obviously and bad things with that but it's certainly in front of anyone who wants to purchase organic food certainly has an opportunity to do so. Certainly some people believe that organic food is better for them. Some people are concerned about pesticides and residues in food. And some people believe that organic food is better for them. One thing I do know is I can say that Canada's food system ensures that all food whether it's organic or conventionally grown is safe. Both production systems are looked at by the CFIA to ensure that our food supply is safe.
For pesticides specifically, their data tells us that more than 99% of all fruits and vegetables contain no pesticide residue or are within the limits set by Health Canada. And of that, about 80% show no detectable residue of pesticides at all. Any pesticide residue that is found on food is found in very minute amounts. We're talking about parts per million, parts per billion, you know very tiny minute amounts. And this amount is hundreds or thousands times in some cases lower than the amount shown in health studies to not have any health effects. These are amounts that have 10s to 100s to 1,000 fold sometimes have shown compared against studies that show no health effects at that amount. And again experts from the Canadian Cancer Society have said that pesticide residue in food do not cause any increased cancer risk (audience objects).
One of the things we do know of course again is that we are living longer and healthier. Just this year we've seen that our average life expectancy in Canada is again at an all time high. We're living past 80 years and only 20 and 30 and 40 and 50 years ago, it was 20 years less in some cases. So we are living longer and healthier. And it's largely based on our diet, better diet and health care. And our diet based on abundant, portable, nutritious safe food has certainly helped that. Consuming the right amounts of the right foods, avoiding trans fats and eating healthy foods is certainly a very important part of our health.
I get the one minute mark here so I'll quickly speed through this. On the nutritional aspects, the research that I've looked at and I've looked at whatever I could find, indicate that there is little difference between conventional grown food and organic food. Where there were some differences, the differences were minor. There's been some studies that have shown that vitamin C and some of the other nutritional aspects but there have found to be very minor. The biggest factor is likely what plant variety being used; the climate, the weather that's being produced under as well as the post carbon handling - how long it takes to get to the supermarket, how far its had to travel.
Some of the things that CropLife has looked at are the prices of organic foods. We recently looked at a suite of lettuce, carrots, broccoli, and potatoes and found that in Ontario and a few of the centres around Toronto that they cost 40% more. And so an average Canadian food bill of $125 this is what StatsCan tells us, $9 is spent on fruits and vegetables. You know a concern would be does this increased cost has an impact on the amount of servings that are being fed to our families. The bottom line - the research that I've seen said that there's no safety issue between conventional and organic grown foods. There's no nutritional value increase between conventional or organic foods. So again the question - is organic food worth the price? - well I would say it's a personal choice. And anybody that wants to make that choice, they should feel confident that eating organic food is healthy for them and they should be confident that if they're eating conventionally grown food that it's healthy for them as well. Thank you very much (audience applause).
Jon Steinman: And that was Peter MacLeod, Executive Director of Crop Protection Chemistry at CropLife Canada - a trade association representing the developers, manufacturers and distributors of pesticides and plant biotechnology. More information on CropLife Canada can be found on their website at croplife.ca. CropLife Canada was also mentioned on the November 2nd broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner titled "Chemical Food Part II" where the topic of pesticide residues on food was discussed in depth.
The final panelist speaking at this session of the February 2007 Growing Up Organic Conference held in Toronto was Ellen Desjardins. Ellen is a public health nutritionist and registered dietitian who has worked in various programs throughout Ontario and at the federal level for the past 20 years. Ellen works with the Health Determinants, Planning and Evaluation division at the Region of Waterloo Public Health, and has worked at Toronto Public Health and the Ontario Ministry of Health.
Following Ellen's response to the question Is Organic Worth the Price?, the microphone was turned over to the audience who then posed questions to the three panelists. But before we get to that, here's Ellen Desjardins, answering the question, Is Organic Worth the Price?
Ellen Desjardins: Okay, many of you heard my talk earlier today on phytochemicals and so I just want to add to that by saying that I really believe that low cost food is part of the problem, not the solution as the emphasis on ever cheap food results in loss of quality of food. Organic food has major health benefits in terms of no pesticide residues and higher levels of phytochemicals as I've shown. Organic farmers are not subsidized, their work is largely a labour of love and we need to show our appreciation by spending more. It's a frame of mind. We need to say - thank you for providing the food that I need for sustenance and optimum health. I was part of an organic CSA last year, it would cost a little more and it was worth every cent. The food was delicious, it was healthy, it made me feel good to eat it. We need also to remember that the cost of regular conventional food does not include externalities as Ann Clark has shown. The invisible costs of fossil fuels, pesticides, fertilizers and regulation. I have to mention that as our food supply contains more and more genetically modified foods, the regulatory costs that are involved are enormous and they're growing, they're huge. They are invisible but it's something that we all pay for in our taxes.
Now food insecurity is an issue. There are people who are low income and we believe in Public Health that people must be able to afford their food and not be dependent on charity. So to this end, we need to have policies in place and we do advocate for those constantly. Policies that ensure affordable housing for example so people have enough money left over to spend it on food. For those on social assistance, again we need to advocate, we do advocate that sufficient funds should be available to people to be able to buy foods for a healthy diet. What really frightens me as a nutritionist is that we're seeing a new norm where children are entirely use to highly processed food and the cheaper the better, And we're going to pay for this in health care dollars. And who pays for our heath care dollars is all of us.
I was at a food security conference in Vancouver last fall and it coincided with the Provincial Medical Office of Health releasing their provincial report in which it was calculated that if we continue to eat the way we do and interestingly, this is with the low cost highly processed food that more and more of us are eating and with the concurrent increase in obesity, that in, maybe five, seven years time, the budget for health care will be so huge that it will eat up most of the provincial budget. This is very frightening and it's interesting that the B.C. government has instituted a new program in which over the next five years will be phased in a program where local farmers, I hope most of them are going to be organic but I'm not sure about that, are going to be supplying the children with food from local B.C. orchards every day in all schools in British Columbia. This will phased over the next five years (audience claps). And you know hopefully, it's only a piece of fruit every day for all children in school but hopefully it'll get them back use to eating real food.
I just want to respond to Peter's point about that we're living longer. Why are people who are now elderly living longer? It's because they grew up in a time when organic food was the norm (audience claps). And so what we don't know yet is the children of today who are eating all kinds of food that is filled with pesticides and filled with additives and highly processed food - we don't know how long they're going to live. In fact we've already heard a warning that these children are going to live shorter than their parents and this is something that we all need to do something about.
Jon Steinman: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner a weekly one-hour radio program and podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman. You were just listening to Ellen Desjardins of the Region of Waterloo Public Health Department. Ellen spoke at the 2007 Growing Up Organic Conference recently held in Toronto. The one-day event was hosted by the Canadian Organic Growers - a national member-based organization, and Deconstructing Dinner attended the conference to record the many speakers and panels making up the day-long event.
Ellen was the third of three panelists who during the final session of the conference answered the question, "Is Organic Worth the Price?" And if you missed any of the other panelists on today's broadcast, this show will be archived on the Deconstructing Dinner website where more information on today's topic will also be provided. And that website is cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
During the next half of the program, we will hear segments from the Q and A period when the microphone was turned over to the audience. For those of you who may have missed the initial introductions of the three panelists, they are Dr. Ann Clark of the University of Guelph, Peter MacLeod of CropLife Canada - a trade association representing the pesticide and biotechnology industry, and Ellen Desjardins of the Region of Waterloo Public Health. And the first few questions are fielded by Ann Clark and Peter MacLeod.
Audience Question: I apologize because I think probably most people in the room know the answer to this question but I don't so. What is the difference between organic and conventional pesticide? I just need some explanation on that.
Ann Clark: There are very few organic pesticides that are approved for use and under very specific conditions. The synthetic pesticides are the ones that are used in conventional agriculture and are not allowed to be used in organic farming. And the same with drugs and pharmaceuticals, antibiotics. There are very strict limitations or complete exclusion of the use of those in organic and they are widely used in conventional to the point of prophylactic feeding of antibiotics in the feeds.
Peter MacLeod: I guess in general, from my knowledge in looking at the permitted substance list in organic production, I think the key word is synthetics. So organic pesticides are generally in the same form that you would like take them from the soil if it's copper sulfate or something like that. Clay or if it's a pesticide used in traditional agriculture it would be synthetically made.
Jon Steinman: In this next question from the audience, the panelists respond to a question on the topic of seeds, and while the question is somewhat off-topic, there is some important information shared in the responses.
Audience Question: I think that Wayne had a good point there at the beginning - can we afford not to buy organics and I think there's all kinds of reasons why we might want to think about it if we cannot afford to buy organics. But just on one and I welcome some comments from the panelists. But on one whoever controls our seeds controls our food and because if we can't get seeds as farmers that's where it all starts from. If we don't have access to a wide variety of seeds then we don't have access to a wide variety of foods. So one of the things I've seen floating around here today is actually about terminator seeds and the post carbs there. But I'm just interested in the comments from panelists on terminator seeds, what those might mean and just on the control of seeds and patent on seeds and the whole control of seeds issue and how that works into sort of whether or not we can afford to buy organics or not.
Ann Clark: Well certainly terminator not yet on the market place but it's the first of a population of what are called disabling genes. When we think of GM, genetically engineering we tend to think of adding traits. Well terminator and others like it, take away traits. They take away the ability of a plant to germinate, of a seed to germinate that is. So, it's quite alarming if you think about it because there's all sorts of things. But basically the long and the short of it is it concentrates power more and more in the hands of fewer and fewer people, fewer and fewer companies who's interests are not the same as consumer interest or environmental interest or farmer interest. I was interested to hear Peter talk about choice and guaranteeing choice. Well that's the whole thing that's denied by GM. As soon as you're growing GM crops - corn, soybeans, canola, even wheat, will do this, alfalfa will certainly do this, sugar beet will do this, pollen moves, seed moves. You cannot control this. Every authoritative body that's looked at this says there is no way to contain GM crops. And this did not start with GM, this has happened with all things. We have grossly, people who are promoting GM crops, have grossly underestimated the sex-drive of plants (audience laughs). They have every conceivable way of getting around our efforts to confine them. So, as soon as you're growing GM crops then by definition you have contamination and you do not have choice (audience claps).
Peter MacLeod: I'm certainly no expert in genetically modified crops. That's certainly not my area of specialty or terminator seeds. But what I've read and what has been explained to me is that it's very similar to hybrid corn, it doesn't produce seed. It's very similar to seedless grapes and watermelons. This is a technology that can help stop the gene flow because seeds are not viable once they're produced once. The question of seed production and seeds not being available for farmers - I think what we've seen is that a great number of farmers have started selecting a very few varieties of seeds and they see a value in that so they purchase them. I don't think there's any incidence where seeds have not been available for people who want to buy them whether it's conventional or non-conventional.
Jon Steinman: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner as we listen to the question and answer period following a session at the 2007 Canadian Organic Growers conference held in Toronto. This next question is in regards to biodiversity. But as Ann Clark begins to respond to the question, the microphone gets hijacked by a farmer in the audience. Take a listen.
Audience Question: Hi. I have a question. I guess it's for all the panelists about biodiversity and particularly in relation to the statement of research indicates that there is no safety issue or safety difference between organic and non-organic food. And research would also indicate that pesticides are very damaging for pollinators and there's a crisis facing bees and other wild pollinators. For example, last year, statistics showed that honey bees declined by over 50% in the U.S. And I think it's very strange to be looking at life expectancy of ourselves as consumers without taking into account the life expectancy of the planet and all of the biodiversities. So, I was just wondering whether this thing about safety could be somehow expanded to a more holistic vision of including the rest of the life that is so essential to our lives as well (audience claps).
Ann Clark: The point is really well-taken. In fact there have been a number of papers coming out of California and elsewhere just in the last year, documenting that conventional versus organic as you....
Alvin Filsinger: The question is, is organic food...
Ann Clark: Just give me a minute. Hey, hold it. I'm not done yet.
Alvin Filsinger: Is organic food worth the price? Yes, I say is a personal choice. A bit loud, okay, okay.
Ann Clark: Actually, go ahead - no, no. Go ahead and let him ask the question and then we'll go on afterwards. Go ahead.
Alvin Filsinger: Okay. I would say organic food is worth the price and it's a personal choice (audience claps). But after producing organic food for about 60 years, I dug my 66th crop this Fall and I go to the Acres Convention and I go all over. I've been in Israel, I've been in England and I would say that we need badly, to improve the mineral content and a proper mineral balance along with all the other organic we have so far. And we now have proof that we can almost double our mineral and vitamin nourishment and we have access to information to prove it how our food in general has dropped almost from 86% some of it. So we're filling our stomachs but it's not satisfying our hidden hunger. So, I'm going to go farming still now that I've sold my farm and I am trying some experiments this summer to prove to myself if it's the last thing I do. And I hope I can last another ten years to do it (audience claps).
Wayne Roberts: I think that was worth the price of admission (audience laughs). Ann, I think you were saying something.
Ann Clark: Yeah, there certainly are issues with respect to safety and the way that safety of pesticides is regulated. There have been very serious criticisms made of the regulatory system by the Natural Academy of Sciences in the U.S., by the Auditor General in Canada for example, there's hundreds of active ingredients that are in use. CFIA, the pest management advisory committee, it agreed to reassess the pesticides that are in use now, many of which are decades old and were approved under standards that are hopelessly outdated. They agreed to do this ten years ago. They have now finished six out of the hundreds have been reassessed and every one of them has either been pulled from the market or seriously restricted in its use. So, the way that we assess the safety of things period, let alone the butterflies and the bees and everything else is under serious doubt and this has been known for a long time but they continue to do it.
On the issue of minute quantities of residues, this is where endocrine disrupters come in. This is a very active field. Something like 40% by weight of all pesticides that are used are known or suspected endocrine disrupters. They have essentially an inverse dose response. In other words the less there is, the worse it is. This is a huge area of research. The U.S. government is sponsoring a vast amount of research on this. So, just because it's a small amount doesn't mean it's safe, particularly when there's more than one residue on the thing. So there are very serious reservations about the regulatory function in Canada and U.S. for pesticide safety.
But getting back to the bees and the butterflies and all that, there's a lot of evidence and I'm sure this is no surprise to most of you that the bees are a whole lot happier, a lot more abundant and a lot more effective under organic management, particularly when there is habitat and specifically intended habitat on the organic farm. If you don't leave habitat for the bees the differences are not as great (audience claps).
Wayne Roberts: Thank you. We have Peter and then one more question from the floor, please.
Peter MacLeod: The question of pollinators, I know it's been a subject of great concern from everybody because there's no doubt the amount of bees and pollination in general has been reduced in Europe and Canada and the United States, there's evidence to suggest this. What isn't known is what is causing it. I mean there's been a number of studies specifically on some pesticides that have been accused of being the cause of some of this decline and the researchers haven't been able to find that link. So there is a serious problem and I do believe we need to have more research to figure out why.
Jon Steinman: And that last voice was Peter MacLeod of CropLife Canada - a trade association representing the pesticide and biotechnology industry, and the other respondent who fielded most of that question on biodiversity was Ann Clark of the University of Guelph. As was later discovered following the hijacking of the microphone by the passionate farmer whom you heard, that confusion did arise as a result of him being hard of hearing. And also upon further discovery, that farmer was Alvin Filsinger, who is known as one of the pioneers of organic and biodynamic apple farming in Ontario. And Alvin farms in Ayton, Ontario.
Also mentioned during that last clip was the topic of endocrine disruptors, perhaps a new term to some listeners. The endocrine system found within our bodies is a set of glands and the hormones they produce. Hormones help guide the development, growth, reproduction, and behaviour of animals and humans. And there is a growing concern regarding the composition of pesticides used around the world, as many contain what are called endocrine disruptors, or otherwise chemicals that mimic a natural hormone. Such chemicals can fool the body into over-responding to the stimulus or by responding at inappropriate times. Some endocrine disruptors have even been found to block the effects of a hormone within the body altogether. And this will certainly be a topic worth exploring in more depth on an upcoming broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner.
In wrapping up today's broadcast featuring segments recorded at the final session of the 2007 Growing Up Organic Conference held in Toronto, we hear two more questions from the audience, and some final summary statements provided by the three panelists.
Audience Question: Hello? Okay. I'm so nervous, I've never gone up to a Q and A before. But my question is that it's fine for everyone here to say - yeah we believe it's worth the price. For me it's worth the price. For all of us clearly it's worth the extra price but I have a really hard time convincing other people who don't already believe that organic food and organic agricultural practices are the appropriate way to grow food that it is worth the price. And I was just wondering if you had some comments on how to convince other people?
Wayne Roberts: Okay we're going to ask them to do that in their summary comments but can we have a little hand to congratulate someone on their first question on organic farming. (audience claps).
Audience Member: I just want to comment that I think there's a war going on here that we've heard for years that control of food is control of people. And we have Mr. MacLeod here representing the corporate sector that is taking the lion's share of the food industry and actually taking ownership of it. I'm a Century farm and I grew up years ago when farming was a lot like sex. When it was good it was real good and when it was bad it wasn't too bad either (audience laughs). Unfortunately Mr. MacLeod's employers have changed all that. They basically destroyed the conventional family farm and corporatized it. And that's because corporation's bottom line is profit. It's nothing to do with the people. And we see that in the tobacco industry. We see it in the pharmaceutical and we see it in the food industry. So I just hope that Mr. MacLeod can justify his position when we state that research indicates there's no safety issue. All it takes is a little common sense to see what's taking place in the food industry today to know that there are very serious safety issues and that's why all the regulatory controls are coming in and corporate agriculture is taking the lion's share for themselves. Thank you (audience claps).
Jon Steinman: And here's Peter MacLeod's response of CropLife Canada followed by Ann Clark of the University of Guelph.
Peter MacLeod: I guess to summarize, we don't have time today to get into a long discussion on some of the issues that have been raised. But I'll get back to the question at hand here - is organic food worth the price. And I'll reiterate my comment - it's a personal choice. If people want to make that choice for organic food I think that should be supported. I think farmers that grow organic food should be supported the same as conventional farmers. But I would ask you that when you have these questions such as about bees, corporate farming, seed technology that you take a look at the data and the scientific research. There is a body of evidence out there. Some supports what I've been saying some does not support what I've been saying so I encourage you to explore that and make an important choice.
Ann Clark: Okay. On the issue of how do you convince someone to buy organic. Well I don't think you do. I'm remembering something Joel Salatin said. He said usually you say that I'll believe it when I see it. He says what it really is, is I'll see it when I believe it (audience claps). So until ... not mine it was Joel Salatin. I really think that's the way it is and it's like a light bulb thing. It's like a revelation. It's like a body of thought that people come to over time and it's not something you can hit them over the head with a hammer and they're going to believe. So just keep working at it. Just keep making things available, just keep dialoguing and eventually there'll be a convert and there you go. I think something that Michael Pollen said in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma. that I hadn't realized before. He makes the point of why is it that poor people are always eating potato chips and candy and pop and stuff like that. And it's partly because they're in communities that don't have regular grocery stores and don't have regular delivery of fruits and vegetables, fair enough. But he also makes the point that those are the cheapest calories you can get. That a calorie of tomato or a calorie of broccoli is a whole lot more expensive than a calorie of potato chip. And the reason is, at least in the U.S, that what is it that the bulk of the subsidies goes to. The bulk of the farmers subsidies go to corn, soybeans, sugar, sugar beet, oil, things like that. They don't subsidize production of tomatoes and broccoli and maybe we should. We're doing this the wrong way. This is a misguided policy (audience claps). And the only good news about the thought that many of the problems of agriculture today are in fact policy-driven and are in fact, intentional. People are going out of business on purpose because it's a matter of government policy, not because of the free market or the fair market or biology or anything else. The only good news to that is what's been made by policy can be unmade by policy and that's where consumer groups and lobbying come in.
The Europeans are no different than we are. Their governments are just a pro-capital-intensive, resource-intensive, concentration, specialization, all that stuff as our government is. The difference is the consumers. The consumers have picked this thing up and run with it and they're demanding things that we don't demand. So the ball is in our court. And if we want something different, we can do it. There's no biological reason why these things can't be done (audience claps).
Jon Steinman: And here's Ellen Desjardin of the Region of Waterloo Public Health.
Ellen Desjardin: Okay to follow up with what Ann has just said, there's an interesting way of thinking about the current agricultural system. There have recently been some really excellent studies done out of the Cornell University that shows that we don't even produce in our country enough fruits and vegetables to meet the optimal need. For example, look at our new Food Guide. It suggests that for optimum health most of us we should be eating about six to eight servings of fruits and vegetables per day. If suddenly all Canadians decided to actually do that, which is you know my sort of dream in heaven, it would be a nightmare because there is not enough food to meet that need. Not enough food is grown in our country and in North America to meet that need. There is lots of agricultural land in use and what is it being used for - for food for animal feed and for high fructose corn syrup and other food that Michael Pollen has amply illustrated in his book. So that is kind of a sobering fact that we all sort of need to eventually advocate towards.
And secondly I just want to make the point that one of the greatest values of organic food for which we must be willing to pay more, is to act as an assurance of non-GMO produce and products in our food supply. We currently have no surveillance to track back food to the origin should we ever have an outbreak of an allergic reaction to a toxin in GMO food which would possibly be the result of a multiple gene transfer from one species to another. And without having the choice of organic food we are all in public health risk. So for that I think all of us need to be willing to pay what it costs organic farmers to produce this food and it's got to be a growing movement because the choice has to be there (audience claps).
Jon Steinman: And that concludes the recorded segments from the final session of the 2007 Growing Up Organic Conference. The conference was held in February in Toronto, and organized by the Canadian Organic Growers - a national member-based organization, and more info on them can be found at cog.ca.
If you missed any of today's broadcast of the session titled "Is Organic Worth the Price," this show will be archived on the Deconstructing Dinner website, and more info on the speakers heard will also be found there. And our website is cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
And in closing out today's broadcast, I do want to quickly expand on one of panelist's final comments with regards to what it is we as Canadians can do to protect the safety of our food. One of the best ways of course is through the choices we make at grocery stores and at restaurants. But on a policy level, there is a network of individuals and organizations across the country who are working towards policy change on a federal level leading up to the 2008 renewal of Canada's Agricultural Policy Framework. And that was the feature of the November 9th broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner titled "Growing Hope," and that too is archived on our website. The progress of that will be followed by us, and you can expect to hear about this initiative on future broadcasts.
That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host, Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant Doug Farquharson. I also thank Heather Douglas and CKLN in Toronto for representing this program and recording the conference that we heard segments from today.
The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.
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Till next week.