In our culture, organic has become a symbol for healthier food. But has it become more of a status symbol or are you really getting what you pay for?

The Facts

Organic foods must be produced without1

  • Synthetic pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or fertilizers
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • Antibiotics or growth hormones
  • Irradiation

Organic farmers use crop rotation, plant compost and composted manure to enrich the soil2. Although synthetic chemicals are not allowed, many organic farmers are allowed to use natural chemicals that have been approved1. In addition, organic meat or poultry must be only fed organic feed2.

What does “Organic” mean in Canada8?

The Canadian Organic Regime is the Government of Canada’s response to demands from producers and consumers for an agricultural system for organic products.These regulations which came into effect June 9th, 2009 outline specific requirements for organic products to be labeled as organic or bear the Canada Organic Logo [shown to the right]. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates the organic food claims companies and farmers are permitted to make3. The CFIA tests both organic and non-organic products for contaminants including pesticides. If levels are tested and Health Canada finds them to be too high, a Food Recall Warning is issued. If levels below the Maximum Residue Limit are found on organic products, the accredited organic certification body is notified and if an investigation deems that pesticides were used intentionally, the organic certification can be suspended or cancelled. Products must have organic content of at least 95% to be deemed organic or carry the logo. 


Is there really a difference?

Organic foods have not been proven to have significantly more nutrients than their conventional counterparts1. The nutrient content of food is more dependent on other things like the soil quality, growing conditions, harvesting methods and time, species of animal, and what the animal consumes. Many conventional farmers use a combination of organic farming practices, but have not been certified to be organic due to the costs2Unlike in the United States, bovine growth hormone, a hormone that increases the amount of milk a cow produces, is banned in Canada as it makes the cow more susceptible to harmful infections4.That’s just one less thing to be worried about when you’re grocery shopping.

If you are an organic food connoisseur, you may have heard of ‘The Dirty Dozen,’ a list of 12 fruits and vegetables that have been found by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to have the highest pesticide content. According to the EWG, if you eliminate the produce on the list from your diet or purchase them organic, you can cut down your pesticide intake by up to 80%5Despite how significant this may sound, the produce on the list has been shown to have pesticide levels more than safe enough for human consumption by Health Canada’s standards1The EWG also developed ‘The Clean Fifteen’, which is a list of the produce that are least likely to hold pesticide residues5So if you’re really looking to start buying organic foods but are on a tight budget, this list will tell you which items on your grocery list are okay to buy at a regular grocery store.

Regardless, if you choose to buy organic or non-organic food, you have nothing to worry about, as pesticide usage is highly regulated in Canada by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency6.This agency ensures that Canadians are not exposed to unsafe levels of pesticides from the food that we eat. If you are concerned about your pesticide exposure, you can reduce your exposure by:

  • Rinsing and scrubbing your fruits and vegetables with a vegetable brush under cold running water.This will help get rid of any residual chemicals that may still be left on the surface2
  • Properly handling, storing and cooking meat, poultry and eggs. This will help eliminate any potential antibiotic-resistant bacteria2
  • Buying food from Canada. Produce purchased from a farmer’s market has been shown to contain less pesticide compared to imported produce even if it is not labeled organic. Plus it supports the local economy, which is an added bonus7.


Jane Skapinker

Registered Dietitian


  1. Understanding organic foods. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from
  2. Are organic foods better for my health? (2015, January 6). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from
  3. Organic Claims: Permitted Claims. (2014, May 26). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from
  4. Questions and Answers- Hormonal Growth Promoters. (2012, September 25). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from  
  5. EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from  
  6. Pest Management Regulatory Agency. (2009). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from
  7. What you need to know about pesticides. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from
  8. Canada Organic Regime. (2014).Retrieved August 4th, 2015, from

Monday, February 5, 2018 in
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