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Press Conference on Parliament Hill with NDP MP Paul Dewar

Feb 18

Canadian Organic Growers applauds Paul Dewar’s private members bill as an important step to reclaiming our food system. Canadians have a right to know what they’re eating and a right to know that the food that they’re eating is not contributing to the degradation of their health and the ecosystems of which they are a part.

The Canadian food system is broken. We’re no longer farming with nature as our grandparents did. In fact, we seem to be doing everything in our power to subvert nature. Chances are that the beef you ate last night was fattened up at a high density feed lot in AB; that the bacon you had for breakfast came from a hog raised in an intensive livestock operation where it could barely turn around and never saw the light of day; that the salad you had for lunch was sprayed with multiple applications of numerous pesticides and flown in from California, that the salad dressing contained genetically modified oils; and that the glass of wine that you’re so looking forward to this evening was produced from grapes grown in soil fumigated to the point where anything living was annihilated.

This sounds shocking, but what I’m describing is modern agriculture. There are alternatives, including organic, but in order to exercise these choices, people need to first be educated about the food system and that starts with knowing what they are eating.

Many countries in the world require labelling of genetically modified organisms, but despite many previous attempts, Canada has failed to pass legislation that would force companies to reveal whether products of genetic engineering were used in a particular food product. Instead, we have a voluntary labelling standard that to my knowledge has never actually been used on commercial packaging.

Scientists no longer doubt that many of the 1130 synthetic pesticides registered for use in Canadian agriculture are contributing to the degradation of our health and to that of the environment. Recent blood and urine tests done on many politicians, including the leader of the NDP, provides convincing evidence that many of these pesticides end up in our bodies. The politicians turned out to be even more polluted than the other adults in the surveys and they all contained some levels of agricultural pesticides (organochlorines and organophosphates).

Pesticides can be consumed through our foods or in the water. In 2004, CFIA sampled over 36 000 plant foods. Pesticide residues were found on 10% of the samples. The US, where we get most of our fruits and vegetables reported 76% with detectable levels of pesticides.

An Ag Canada study found that 1-2% of all pesticides used for food production in Ontario end up in surface waters[1].  These pesticides also find their way to groundwater supplies.  Pesticide contamination was detected in 12% of the wells tested in their groundwater survey (ibid).   The effects of pesticides on wildlife include, but are not limited to, effects on the endocrine, nervous and immune systems[2]. These chemicals have also been linked with adverse human health impacts, including increased risk of cancer, neurological impairment, reproductive effects, etc.  Thousands of Canadian children also die each year from acute pesticide toxicity.

These are just some of the issues associated with our broken food system and I believe that change has to start with the awareness. If your food package contained the full list of ingredients, including GMOs, 2-4-D, dichloroprene, atrazine, diazonon, malathion, chorpyrifos or any of the other hundreds of registered chemicals, wouldn’t you start to rethink the food you eat?

[1] Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (2000). The Health of Our Water, 173 p.

[2] Colborn T, Clement C, eds (1992). Chemically-Induced Alterations in Sexual and Functional Development: The Wildlife/Human Connection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Scientific Publishing, 403 p.