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Organic Produce Decisions: 5 Things to Consider

July 23, 2013 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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Recent consumer research shows that 66% of British Columbians buy organic groceries on a weekly basis.

Organic grocery shoppers spend an average of $19 more per week than people who don’t buy organic groceries - with vegetables and fruit accounting for 43% of organic sales. Is it worth it to buy organic vegetables and fruit?

Maybe, but it depends on which factors are most important to you.

1. Price and Availability

  • Organic produce is usually more expensive and less available than non-organic produce. 
  • Growing your own vegetables and fruit, or joining an organic community supported agriculture program, are ways to lower the costs of organic produce.

2. Nutrition

  • Most studies have found no significant nutrient differences between organic and non-organic produce. 
  • Many factors may cause nutrient variation in vegetables and fruit. These include: the variety of plant, growing conditions, ripeness, handling, processing, storage and packaging conditions.

3. Pesticide residues

  • Health Canada states that there is no evidence of a health risk from pesticide residues on non-organic produce.
  • Farm workers are the group of people who are most at risk from pesticide exposure. Organic farming methods do not permit the use of synthetic pesticides.
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency monitors pesticide residues on domestic and imported foods in Canada. Monitoring over the last 10 years shows that nearly all samples were well below set residue limits. For example, in the 2006/2007 survey, 90% of Canadian fruit and vegetables had no detectible pesticide residues, and 99% had residues below the set limits.
  • Washing vegetables and fruit in clean water is an effective way to reduce any pesticide residues that may be on the surface of the food.

4. Environmental preservation

  • Protecting the environment is a key principle of organic farming. This principle includes: minimizing soil erosion, maintaining soil fertility and quality, decreasing pollution, and allowing the best conditions for healthy and varied plant and animal life. 
  • Non-organic farmers may, or may not, follow these principles of environmental protection.

5. Genetically Modified Organisms

  • Canadian Organic Standards do not permit the use of genetically engineered materials or products. 
  • Health Canada states that genetically modified foods are safe; however GMOs remain a hot button issue for many people for a variety of reasons.
  • Over 81 genetically modified foods have been approved for sale in Canada. Virus resistant potato and squash, and delayed ripening tomato are examples that may be found in the produce department.

All of this is food for thought, but don’t let the options stress you out. Remember that eating more vegetables and fruits (conventional or organic) is consistently recommended by health organizations around the world as a key step towards healthy eating.


Recommended Resources:
Healthy Canadians: Pesticides and Food Safety
National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health: Does Eating Organic Food Reduce Pesticide Exposures and Health Risks?
Dalhousie University: Organic Agricultural Centre of Canada

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