The August park newsletter contained a piece by Jutta Mason about our discovery of a strange and alarming pro-pesticide ad in the "Harvest Ontario" guide to markets and farmstands. We were eager to learn more about "CropLife", the organization behind this ad.
Thank you to Ecological Farmers of Ontario for permission to post this article from their newsletter. To learn more about EFAO, and issues affecting organic farmers, visit their website at www.efao.ca.
CropLife Canada and Produce Prices
By: Ann Slater, President Ecological Farming Association of Ontario
Published: July - August, 2006
Source: Ecological Farming in Ontario
CropLife Canada is the trade association for the manufacturers, developers and distributors of pesticide and GMO products - companies like Monsanto and Sygenta. Over a year ago it launched a campaign called ‘Food for Thought’, designed to help the public “learn more about the crop protection methods and rigorous standards that provide Canadians with a safe, abundant and affordable food supply.”
Part of their crusade is an ongoing attempt to smear and discredit organic food and production. The latest attack was brought to my attention by a couple of newspaper reporters in western Ontario in April. CropLife Canada is sending dieticians to talk to the editorial staff of daily newspapers across Ontario, to make the case that organic produce is 40% more expensive than non-organic and 0% more nutritious.
Between March 11 and 14, Pollara Inc., a research firm working for CropLife Canada, visited three supermarkets in each of Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and Kitchener/Guelph to compare prices of organic and non-organic produce. The produce varied from location to location, depending on what was available, with carrots being the only item compared at each store. Of the twelve supermarkets visited only one was an independent store. The rest are either Loblaws or A&P (now owned by Metro) owned stores. No health food stores, organic stores or farmers’ markets were reported on.
The research on the nutritional comparison of organic and non-organic produce seems to be based on a couple of statements from OMAFRA and the Manitoba Ministry of Agriculture stating there is no difference in nutritional quality of organic and conventional crops. The press material makes no mention of the nutritional quality of food based on how fresh it is. Presumably the majority of the produce (e.g. lettuce, broccoli, celery) priced at the supermarkets was imported and traveled 1000's of kilometers, losing vitamins and minerals along the way.
Many of us have experienced questions about the price of organic food and about the price of fresh, local food at farmers’ markets and farm stands. Last year the American publication, Growing for Market, published an interesting article titled ‘Are supermarkets cheaper than farmers’ markets?’. Two market farmers from Oklahoma, decided to take on the question. They went to three supermarkets in their area - an organic/health food chain (Wild Oats), a common grocery store in their town (Albertsons) and the Wal-Mart Neighbourhood Market. They took along a list of the items they had for sale at their market stall that week and noted the prices at each of the supermarkets. They did not compare organic and non-organic, just farmers’ market and supermarket. Along with the price they noted the weight of each item.
Their research showed that although the price for, say a head of romaine lettuce, might be lowest at Wal-Mart, the weight of the head of lettuce was also lowest at Wal-Mart. In almost every case, on a price per pound basis their farmers’ market produce was the best buy. This makes sense, since their produce was the freshest and had not lost moisture and nutrients as it traveled around the country and sat on store shelves. They have used this information to develop a local foods fact sheet to point out that local food is not just for the wealthy and that food from half-way around the world can never compete with the benefits of eating food from your own neighbourhood.
Why is CropLife Canada so keen to smear organic? According to their survey of Canadian women, 77% sometimes buy or consider buying organically grown fruits and vegetables. Twenty-one percent say they buy organic because they are concerned about pesticides on their food and 22% believe organic produce is more nutritious. On top of that, 14% say they sometimes feel guilty about buying cheaper conventional produce when organic is available.
What do I say when people say organic food is too expensive or that the fresh produce at my market stall is too expensive? There are places to buy organic food, other than supermarkets. Fresh, local organic produce is available at farmers’ markets, farm stands, independent health food stores and CSA programs around the province. This produce is fresh, tasty and full of life. It is worth every penny you pay for it and you will probably find your produce lasts longer with little waste.
If any of you have time over the coming market season to compare prices of produce, organic and non-organic, at local supermarkets with direct-from-the-farmer prices at your local farm stand or farm market, I would be interested in collecting your data and compiling some Ontario information. Contact me at R.R. 1 Lakeside, N0M 2G0 or firstname.lastname@example.org.