vegan muse

Organic Foods and Fair Trading

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“Your health, happiness, and the future of life on earth are rarely so much in your hands as when you sit down to eat.” – John Robbins, Diet for a New America

Organics: The Philosophy

Organic food and organic farming represent a philosophy that goes beyond just the quality of food. It strives to maintain the integrity of the entire food chain – soil, plants, air, water, animals, and people. We are all part of the same ecosystem. Since the food sources of herbivores originate from the land, the focus must therefore be on the replenishment of our land, just as we replenish ourselves. As fertile land grows, healthier plants translate to healthier humans and healthier animals. – Adapted from Steve Meyerowitz, The Organic Food Guide: How to Shop Smarter and Eat Healthier

Are organically grown foods superior to their conventionally grown counterparts? This seems to be a valid question, especially with the increasing demand for organically grown produce. Before I continue, I would like to mention that this article will solely focus on organic fruits and vegetables. The immoral exploitation of animals will be discussed in a future article that will also delve into the world of animal organics.

It’s no secret that public concern has been mounting over whether ingestible plant products are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) or not. I’m sure many of you have noticed the ‘organic’ options currently available in the larger grocery stores that were once non-existent. Where exactly do these products come from and, more importantly, how does a product gain its ‘organic’ classification? With a link to the fair trade mentality, can we hope to see more businesses such as Bridgehead, an Ottawa-based coffee company that offers 100% fair traded and organic coffees and teas? Just as organic food and organic farming represent a philosophy of universal connectedness, so too does fair trading for all.

Fair Trade

On this planet, much of the current food network involves international trade. Food such as bananas, pineapples, coffee, and chocolate often come from poor, tropical, developing nations far away from the industrial world. Foods such as sugar, oranges, and even flowers are coming from these countries because of their extremely ‘low-cost’ labour. Unfortunately, as first-world countries and nations enjoy the benefits of these low-cost labours, many of the Latin American growers responsible for those products cannot afford to send their children to school. Many of them also suffer injuries and long-term health problems from unprotected use of dangerous pesticides. The inequities of such trade spawned a new movement under which the growers receive premium prices and are trained to follow organic and/or ecologically sustainable farming practices. Hence the introduction of fair trading: a promise, by first world consumers, to neutralize the current state of exploitation. – Adapted from Steve Meyerowitz, The Organic Food Guide: How to Shop Smarter and Eat Healthier

One would think this is simple enough and that fair trading would be something wise to adopt universally. In essence, it is simple but in order to stay on topic and not digress into connected matters, I’ll simply say that certain items make for big business and that the unethical ties that coffee beans, for example, have to a cast of intermediaries is astonishing. The chain of events that carries the coffee beans from El Salvador to New York, for example, involves processors, creditors, exporters, brokers – all of whom take their share. Latin American farmers call them “coyotes”, as their cut is the difference between the farmers having and not having essentials like food and clothing, let alone clean drinking water. – Adapted from Steve Meyerowitz, The Organic Food Guide: How to Shop Smarter and Eat Healthier, and Samuel Fromartz, Organic Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew

As a monetary comparison, the Equal Exchange’s annual report of 2006 states that the conventional market price for coffee was 45 cents per pound. The fair trade price was $1.26 for green coffee and $1.41 for organic coffee, a 180-and-213 percent difference, respectively. In my opinion, this is still not enough. Keeping the “coyotes” in mind, I’m sure a happy medium can be found and adopted. As mentioned previously, this is a murky subject that requires detailed attention. It shall be discussed, in much greater detail, in a future article on this website. – Adapted from Steve Meyerowitz, The Organic Food Guide: How to Shop Smarter and Eat Healthier, and Equal Exchange: 100% Fairly Traded

For those of you interested in the fair trade mentality, may I recommend ‘Fair Trade For All: How Trade Can Promote Development by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Andrew Charlton’. The Ottawa Public Library currently has 9 copies in its possession.

Reflection

What do we have if not our health? Although posed as a question, trust that my intentions are not of the inquisitive nature, rather, that it serves to remind us that the health of each and every one of us and that of our planet as a whole are currently in a state of turmoil and in need of attention. By choosing to support the organic and fair trade industries, in essence, one is choosing the compassionate path as opposed to supporting the current selfish state between developed and underdeveloped nations. This is not a call to ‘emotional arms’, but rather, a way of thinking that enables one to respect others by adopting an ethical mindset for oneself (see article on Connectivity).

Interesting Note: Organic fruits and vegetables are nature’s secret medicine! The secret lies in the phytochemicals deep within the foods. Phytochemicals are plant compounds comprising antioxidants, bioflavonoids, carotenes, enzymes, trace minerals, electrolytes, indoles, isoflavones, and glucosinolates. When fruits are attacked by insects, they produce more of these protective chemicals. So, if you notice a scar on your organic apple, don’t get upset. That apple is actually healthier because it had to strengthen itself against attack, and you in turn, benefit from this extra nutritional reinforcement. – Adapted from Steve Meyerowitz, The Organic Food Guide: How to Shop Smarter and Eat Healthier

Organic & Fair Trade Labels

The following are common labels found on many organic and fair traded products.

“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” – Adelle Davis

Canada Organic Logo
Canadian Organic (CO) Logo

The CO logo is “for use only on those food products certified as meeting the revised Canadian standard for organic production and that contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients.”

CCOF Logo
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) Logo
The CCOF logo “promotes and supports organic food and agriculture through a premier organic certification program, trade support, producer and consumer education, and political advocacy.” CCOF certifies to the USDA National Organic Program.

USDA Organic Logo
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Logo
The USDA insignia adheres to strict labeling rules to help consumers know the exact organic content of the food they buy. The USDA Organic seal also tells you that a product is at least 95 percent organic.

Certified Naturally Grown Logo
Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) Logo
The CNG logo is “a non-profit alternative certification program tailored for small-scale, direct-market organic farmers.” When the USDA’s Organic program was implemented in 2002, “… organic farms earning more than $5,000 per year were forced to make a choice that for many was difficult: either pay high certification fees and complete mounds of paperwork to become Certified Organic, or else give up using the word “organic” to describe their produce.” CNG further explains, “Believing that neither choice was very attractive, some farmers created Certified Naturally Grown to provide an alternative way to assure their customers that they observed strict organic growing practices. CNG strives to strengthen the organic movement by preserving high organic standards and removing financial barriers that tend to exclude smaller farms that sell locally and directly to their customers.”

Demeter Certified Biodynamic Logo
Demeter Certified Biodynamic (DCBD) Logo
The DCBD insignia emphasizes building soil fertility and is carefully tailored to a particular property. DCBD states, “Biodynamics is a systems approach where the farm is viewed as a living whole in which each farm activity affects the others. Management is based on the farmer’s own careful observations, plus the results of tests and analyses. This leads to a modern approach in which traditional knowledge finds a renewal.”

The following encompasses the DCBD dictum: “Use of biodynamic sprays to stimulate biological activity in the soil, and improve retention of nutrients, such as animal wastes; stocking with several different animal species to vary grazing patterns and reduce pasture-borne parasites; widening the range of pasture species; planting trees for multiple purposes; crop rotation designs to enhance soil fertility and control weeds and plant pests which include the use of green manures; recycling of organic wastes, where possible, by large scale composting; changing from chemical pest control to prevention strategies based on good plant and animal nutrition and careful cultivar selection.”

QAI Logo
Quality Assurance International Certified Organic (QAI) Logo
QAI is an “independent, third party certification of organic food systems.” In addition, the program “is designed to certify every step of the organic chain: From the land on which the product is grown, to the producers growing the product, to the post-harvest facilities preparing the product, to the processing and handling facilities transforming the product.”

Rainforest Alliance Certified
Rainforest Alliance Certified (RAC) Logo
The RAC “works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior.” In addition, the RAC strives to “set standards for sustainability that conserve wildlife and wild lands and promote the well-being of workers and their communities. Farms and forestry enterprises that meet our comprehensive criteria receive the Rainforest Alliance certification seal. We also work with tourism businesses, to help them succeed while leaving a small footprint on the environment and providing a boost to local economies.”

Fair Trade Logo
Fair Trade (FT) Logo
The FT insignia “guarantees consumers that strict economic, social and environmental criteria were met in the production and trade of an agricultural product. Fair Trade Certification is currently available in the U.S. for coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, flowers, sugar, rice, and vanilla. TransFair USA licenses companies to display the Fair Trade Certified label on products that meet strict international Fair Trade standards.”

Be Well.

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