On Saturday, February 16th, I attended the Canadian Organic Growers (COG) Conference. It’s a conference targeted towards consumers, bringing them together with the folks that grow their food.
The idea is to educate the general public on matters that affect not only our farmers but our food supply and inadvertently our health. Topics usually range from the ill effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to inspiring stories about school cafeterias feeding our children fresh, nutritious and organic foods on a budget. This was my fourth year at the conference. It is one of my favourite food and nutrition-related events in Toronto. It attracts a lot of good speakers and I always walk away armed with new information about our food system. I find that learning about these issues and stories not only empowers me personally but also helps me inform and empower my clients. “When you know better, you do better” (- Dr. Maya Angelou).
I went to the conference two friends: one is a nutritionist and the other is in the IT world. Their varied perspectives and biases added an interesting twist to the day. Needless to say, we had a lot of good discussions!
Did You Know?
- Mothers exposed to Organophosphate Pesticides (OP) had shorter pregnancies and poor neonatal reflexes. Their children had lower IQ’s, poorer cognitive function and an increased risk of attention issues .
- Genetically modified foods have been found to destroy the cells in intestinal walls. This leads to something called “leaky gut” and causes undigested particles to travel into our blood stream, causing allergic reactions. Many people believe this is the reason we have an alarming rise of allergies in Western society .
- Health Affects of Genetically Modified Foods: many of you may have received a mass email in the last 6 months that depicts rats that were fed genetically modified maize. The images are horrific and shocking. This landmark study was conducted by Gilles-Eric Seralini over a period of 2 years. We were lucky to host Prof. Seralini in Toronto, and to hear him share his research and findings at the COG conference. His team of researchers are the first to conduct a long term study on this subject. The findings indicate severe symptoms in the liver and kidneys in the male subjects, including kidney failure and liver congestion. The affects on female subjects were visible more pronounced, ranging from enlarged mammary glands and failure of the gland to destruction of placental cells. I encourage you to read up on the research and draw your own conclusions. Whether you agree or disagree, I think we should all be looking at the data about GMO foods very closely and with a critical eye, as over 60-70% of our food is now genetically modified. No long term studies have been conducted by companies such as Monsanto that create GMO seeds. We all have a right to know if our food was altered in a lab, and make more informed purchasing decisions. I urge you to read as much as possible on this subject and support our Right to Know.
- Healing with Organic: my favorite session of the day was conducted by Dr. Michelle Perro, a paediatrician, and Julie Daniluk, a holistic nutritionist (from my alma matar). Dr Perro entertained and informed the audience about integrative approaches for helping kids with ADD and ADHD. She was funny, brutally honest and intelligent to boot! Michelle shared inspiring stories of kids that were previously destructive and verbally abusive that saw drastic change in behavior within weeks of being on a whole food diet, nutritional supplements and homeopathic remedies. It frustrates me that mainstream doctors don’t run tests on nutritional deficiency and heavy metal toxicity -> those are the two common root causes of ADD and ADHD! Julie Daniluk also chimmed in with the benefits of whole foods and an anti-inflammatory diet to reduce hyperactivity and other common behavioural issues in kids. I have heard Julie speak several times and as always her passion, enthusiasm and vast knowledge of nutrition never ceases to amaze me.
- Is an Organic Apple from Canada the same as an Organic Apple from the US? Another interesting session was about organic equivalency standards between Canada and the US, and Canada and other countries in the world. That may sound like a boring subject but our presenter, Dave Lockman, managed to keep us at the edge of our seats! Dave has been in the organic certification business for 22 years and currently is the Certification Manager at Pro-Cert Organic Systems. He was impartial and unbiased, and simply stated some of the issues that arise with flawed equivalency agreements. The definition of organic is different in Canada than the US. However, when we set up an equivalency agreement we effectively “barter” for various organic standards. I’ll trade you long term soil fertility for antibiotic use (just as an example). Sold! What you end up with is a trade agreement for organic foods that doesn’t always match up to your national standards. This would be ok except that other countries with more lax standards import into the US and can then import into Canada under that equivalency agreement we have with the US. As a consumer I had no idea about this. I knew about the differences in the Canadian and American standards but was not aware of this import loophole. Don’t get me wrong, our governments need to have equivalency standards in order to facilitate trade. However as consumers it’s important for us to be knowledgeable about the sources of our food. Another thing I learned was that Canadian standards are more stringent than most. In many ways that is a good thing, but certain clauses and requirements are driving up the price of our local organic products, making it impossible for our organic food manufacturers to compete internationally and even within the local Canadian markets. They simply cannot compete with organic products that bear the same stamp of approval but are cheaper in price.
- Canadian Organic Growers: great website for information about organic food standards, organic farming and stay up-to-date on new studies about organic and GMO foods.
- Environmental Working Group (EWG): I love these guys and subscribe to their newsletter. They are always publishing studies about chemicals in foods, cleaning products and beauty products. Check out their consumer guides. They are a fantastic resource for the healthy and environment savvy shopper! Check out their Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists to pick the foods that have the least exposure to chemicals and go for the organic options for the foods most at risk of chemical exposure.
- Center for Environmental Research & Children’s Health (CERCH): great resource for several studies done in the US related to chemical exposure and GMO food. The results will shock you.
- Institute for Responsible Technology: another good resource for learning about the production of GMO foods, affects on our environment and fraudulent studies that are trying to add confusion and noise (and lies) to the GMO debate. They also have a great Non-GMO Shopping Guide (and an iPhone app!).