Professor says organic food is “economic discrimination”

This produce was grown without man-made fertilizers or pesticides. Under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency guidelines, any products with an organic logo must be at least 95 per cent organic. Photo by Jayda Noyes.

Eating organic food is usually a choice, but not for those who can’t afford it.

Sylvain Charlebois is a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He says on average, if consumers are buying from grocery stores, organic food costs about 17-20 per cent more than conventional food. Because of the increase in price, he says organic food is “economic discrimination.”

Charlebois says the evidence is inconclusive for whether or not organic food is healthier and safer than conventional food. “Some studies suggest that it is, and some studies suggest that it’s not.”

He says those who agree with the studies suggesting it is healthier, but can’t afford it, are in an unfair position.

Charlebois eats organic sometimes, but is limited because of the price.

“We go to the farmers’ markets once in a while, but not all the time. I have four children, so I can’t afford to buy organically grown products all the time. It’s very expensive…[My mother in law] eats organic, but she lives on her own, and so when she comes to our place, then we buy organic.”

On top of the claims of being healthier and safer, Charlebois says another reason people eat organic is because it tastes better, and it’s all in the label. “As soon as you hide the label, people get confused.”

Rick Letwinka began Heliotrope Organic Farm in Lumsden in 1995 because his “conscience wouldn’t allow [him] to spray chemicals on food and feed it to people.”

If you eat conventional food, Letwinka says you should “Consider yourself in a giant experiment…You are the test” for whether or not conventional food is safe to consume.

Letwinka says if you want to eat organic, you can afford it. In his opinion, it’s like an addicted smoker, who can always somehow afford cigarettes.

Kyanna Park is a third year justice studies student at the University of Regina. She eats organic food sometimes, and would eat organic all the time if she could afford it. As a student living on her own, Park pays for tuition, rent and utilities, and doesn’t have money left over to buy organic food all the time.

In addition, Park says she feels overlooked because she can’t afford to eat organic. “People push healthy eating and eating organic, and if you can’t afford it…then I guess you’re left out.”

Even though Park says there’s no proof eating organic is healthier and safer, she would still eat only organic if she could because of the large amount of time it takes for conventional produce to ship to grocery stores, and the produce still looks fresh.

“That can’t be good for you,” Park says.

Both Charlebois and Letwinka say organic food is becoming more popular. But, as Charlebois says, if you’re a student or feed a family of five, the organic option isn’t always feasible.


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