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Vol. 14, No. 10, December 15, 2009
Honoured Reader Edition

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In this issue Gallon Environment Letter reviews the local food movement. Canadians are frequently told that both organic food and local food are environmentally preferred but when we go to the store it is difficult to find local organic food. What gives, and what should be done about it? There are a wide range of views and we have presented both the opinions, and some facts, in a point-counterpoint format. We encourage your input, in the form of a Letter to the Editor, but we would ask you to read all of the information we are presenting before you pick up your angry pen!
We had hoped to have an editorial in this issue about progress at the Copenhagen climate negotiations but, even for those on the ground, it is difficult to determine what progress, if any, is being made. Though there is much to be said, there is also a risk that comments thrown into the mash at this point in the negotiations would add to the confusion. There is even controversy among qualified commentators over whether a weak agreement is better or worse than no agreement. Gallon Environment Letter will hold off commenting for a few more days. If Copenhagen produces an agreement, we will dissect it in our next issue. If it does not we will share our analysis instead.
Food is such a huge topic that it has consumed virtually all of the space available in this issue. We hope, and suspect, that all of our readers are interested in food, even if you are not in the food business. We have covered it from many angles and many points of view, somehow most appropriate for the holiday season, but for those who cannot get interested in food, flip to the end of this issue where we have reviewed some comments from the federal Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development on cumulative environmental impact. We will return with a more diverse table of contents in the next issue.
Pierre Desrochers, economic geographer and associate professor at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus, believes that food miles and the 100 mile diet are at best a marketing fad. He has co-authored a paper which examines the origins and validity of the food miles concept and basically rejects all of it as bad for the environment, society and for the economy. The paper points out flaws in what is called the local food movement, the most important of which is that transportation can be only a (relatively small) part of the environmental impact of food. During winter in Canada, countries in the south can grow food outdoors without use of heating and the environmental impact may much be less than producing fresh food here.
Concentrating Farms: More/Bigger Is Better

Desrochers' premise is based on the idea that "concentrating agricultural production in the most favourable regions is the best way to minimize human impacts because doing so "spares" much land that can then be returned to, or remain in, a "natural" state. ... As Adam Smith wrote more than two centuries ago, it is the "maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy." By continually eliminating waste and inefficiencies, market processes would ensure an ever increasing, healthier, and more affordable food supply while simultaneously constantly reducing inputs per unit and, over time, their environmental impacts."
GL notes that as early as 1995 as part of its then State of the Environment Reporting, Environment Canada produced a factsheet called The Environmental Implications of the Hamburger Life Cycle which addressed some of the downsides of concentrations of farm operations.. One of the conclusions was that "There are significant differences in how efficiently various animals and production methods use energy to produce protein. Rangeland cattle are actually among the most efficient, but feedlot cattle are the least. This difference is primarily a result of the extra energy required to produce and process feeds for cattle. The energy differential is partially offset by the shorter feeding and handling period required by feedlot cattle before they reach market weight."

While Desrochers' paper gives much food for thought, GL is concerned that he may have overstepped his evidence. He has some evidence to show that not all local food has a lower environmental impact than imported. GL agrees he is correct on that. GL has pointed out a few of examples previously (Energy Use Comparison of Local and Globally Sourced Food GL Vol. 10, No. 2, January 25, 2005). However, the external costs of high yielding intensive agriculture are often not added to the "costs." In some circumstances, agricultural uses can be layered with wildlife and ecological services; it may not be pristine nature nor yield the highest volume of food products but added together the value may be higher than in the more intensive agriculture.
Range of Views of Local Food Advocates
Attempting to interpret the objectives of all local food advocates seems to GL to be a bit of a straw horse. Large industrial farms are local to somewhere and those are not the ones that many food advocates are promoting. Like many other areas of the environment, or indeed most social goals (such as justice, equity, poverty elimination), terms such as sustainable farming are not wholly pre-defined, evolve in place and time, and are often simplified for consumers too busy or disinterested to get involved in nuances. The difficulty of finding the right words is common e.g. ZEV Zero Emission Vehicles are used as a term in legislation but electric vehicles called ZEV are emitting somewhere - at the power plant producing electricity.
Desrochers has taken one relatively extreme position, the 100 mile (or even kilometre) diet as an example of all local food positioning. Many of those in the local food movement encourage consumers to become more familiar with where their food comes from, to build connections with the food producers, and to make better choices overall for personal, social, economic and environmental benefits. Most food advocates don't say consumers shouldn't eat bananas, but that when local food is available, for example, in season, consumers should choose them. It is also not unreasonable to suggest that in order to help local producers stay viable, it might be a good idea to adjust eating habits to buy stored products such as apples, cabbage, etc for as long as possible out-of-season. Since those imported apples are likely to go into storage for a while anyway, stored local apples may not be so very out-of-line. It may be a simplified guide and wrong occasionally but getting to know local farmers and how they farm is also recommended for making more informed choices. In Canada the idea that one can eat only local food is not especially realistic. Local when possible, and increasing the percentage of local food, makes much more sense.
Consumer demand has been one of the incentives for a number of farmers to switch to more ecological farming practices including certified organic. Local food advocates are also helping consumers grow their own food, teach their children about how eating is connected to the environment and that cheap food may have another price tag. The local food issue often focuses on fresh products when the value is in processed, a gap that programs such as FedNor, a federal regional development program which helps Northern Ontario producers develop and market cheese, jams and syrups, cut meats, ice cream, dried fruit, pies with northern fruits or meats, and food gifts, is seeking to address.

Nevertheless, we recommend Desrochers' paper. It is an interesting paper to read, especially as it discusses the need to consider environmental impacts such as consumers driving to go shopping for food, food waste, cooking food, and food storage.
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The interest in organic and local in North America and the EU indicates consumers are taking more interest in how their food is produced and where it comes from. Because of the complexity of the food system, most of the focus of life cycle study has been on single food items or a limited number of items. An article in Environmental Science & Technology tries to do a large scale LCA. It says making choices for reduced greenhouse gas emissions is more complicated than food miles. Issues include:
Some of the features of this study are that it identifies several uncertainties which "complicate attempts to make definitive claims of superiority." Also, averaging results hides examples which might be better or worse in terms of GHG emissions.
The conclusion is that dietary shift from red meat and dairy to chicken, fish, eggs or vegetable achieves more GHG reductions than buying local.

Of course, the study does in fact say that some part of the GHGs from transport could be reduced by transporting shorter distances so one has the option to make the dietary shift from the local food available reducing GHG gases for both reasons.

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Virtual water is an item that Vaclav Smil suggests could be considered for deciding which food to eat or export. Food plants and animals need water. Virtual water is similar to energy intensity: the amount of the water needed to grow the finished food. When Canada exports the wheat, virtual water is seen as being exported with the wheat. In fact, water isn't like energy in that it isn't permanently converted but is transpired or released to reappear. For example, grain watered by rain may by calculation have a lot of virtual water but in fact grain is dried before export, "A metric ton of traded wheat that needed 1,300 tonnes (cubic meters) of water to produce contains only about 110 kilograms of water, an order of magnitude difference." Nevertheless the concept can be used as an indicator that in agricultural trade, regions with water shortages such as Egypt would be better importing from areas with sufficient water. When John Anthony Allan of the University of London developed the idea in the 1990s he estimated that exports from the EU and the US to Egypt were produced with the equivalent of as much water as flows down the Nile into Egypt for agriculture each year.

Estimates of water needed to produce one kilogram of food product are:
2,300 litres - rice
100-200 litres - many vegetables (cabbages, eggplants, onions)
2,000-4,000 litres - legumes (peas, beans)
at least 4,000 litres - chicken meat
at least 10,000 litres - boneless pork
at least 15,000 and as much as 30,000 litres - boneless beef
Meat products are based on "All of these figures also include feed as well as feed needed for the growth and reproduction of sire and dam animals as well as direct water needs for drinking and sanitation."
Two Actions to Reduce Water Use
Smil makes two suggestions to reduce the water use in food:
Waste Not: The American food supply supplies 3,900 kilocalories per person per day even though babies and inactive seniors need less than 1,500 and an active male about 2,900 kilocalories. The average intake is 2,200 kilocalories a day so 1,700 kilocalories a day, or 45% of the total US food supply, are wasted in the form of overconsumption and excess supply. US food waste represent 80% of the average daily food supply in Bangladesh.
Eat 30% Less Meat: Americans eat on average 85 kilograms of boneless meat a year (equivalent to about 125 kg of carcass weight). This has negative health impacts in terms of obesity and other ailments. Smil calculates that "In Western countries more than 60 percent of all crops (by harvested mass) are grown for animal feeding, hence 60 to 70 percent of all virtual water used in this agriculture goes into meat, egg and dairy production:" Reducing consumption to 60 kg. of boneless meat would save annually 120 to 140 cubic kilometres of virtual water. Most of this meat reduction wouldn't even noticed if less was wasted. The water saved could be left to its natural function or be used to produce from 200 to 250 million tonnes of grains for international trade to water-short countries, doubling the current annual global trade. Smil says, "There is no rational excuse for deliberately overproducing food while stressing some key biospheric services. Low-income developing countries need higher crop outputs and higher food intakes, but for affluent national the best way ahead is not to produce more food more efficiently but to live within rational confines."

If GL readers think that eating fish instead would be a better choice, Smil writes in a paper about Japan, "the country with not even 2% of the world's population now consumes more than 8% of the global landings of all seafood and this overconsumption cannot serve - notwithstanding all the talk about the nutritional desirability of eating fish - as a model for any populous modernizing nation because all of the world's major fishing regions are either already overfished or their exploitation is very close to maximum sustainable capacity "
Vaclav Smil is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba. His interdisciplinary research deals with interactions of energy, environment, food, economy, population and technical advances. He is the author of 25 books on these topics, the latest ones (both in 2008) being Energy in Nature and Society and Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next 50 Years.
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Hellman's Real Mayonnaise has a web site encouraging Canadians to eat local and says, "We are doing our part. Hellmans' Real Mayonnaise is made with locally sourced ingredients like eggs from Canadian egg farmers and Canola oil from the Canadian prairies."

Of course, country-of-origin by itself is not an indication of local if distance from grower to eater is what is important. If distance counts, then those Canadians near the border with the US would be buying "local" if they bought from the US. However, when the reason for local is economic development, local food advocates often advise buying nearby, then regionally and then Canadian.
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Bob Watson, Director of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) summarized the key messages from the series of reports produced by the IAASTD, which were approved by 60 developed and developing countries in South Africa in April, 2008. The IAASTD was co-sponsored by the World Bank, FAO, UNEP, UNESCO, UNDP, WHO and the GEF.

He advised that the key messages are:
Despite more production over the last 40 years, more food per capita, and lower food prices, more than 850 million people go hungry and about 150 million children under 5 years old are severely under-nourished while overnutrition afflicts many in the developed world. Global production is currently sufficient to feed everybody in the world. Asia and other densely populated regions in the world produce most of the food which is consumed domestically.

Multi-functionality of Agriculture

While much of the focus has been on production, agriculture is multifunctional and needs to provide economic, environmental and social services including prevention of environmental degradation, social cohesion, gender equality, improved human health and respect for local and traditional knowledge. Policies need to ensure that the small-scale farmer is embodied within national, regional and global trade systems and markets. Payments to the farmer for ecosystem services, e.g. carbon sequestration is an example of recognizing the multi-functionality of agriculture.


Intensification and extensification have resulted in increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, loss of biological diversity and land and water degradation. Environmental sustainability needs more investment in research but must include farmer participation. Local and traditional knowledge must be integrated with the scientific and academics knowledge of researchers. Examples of research needed to address the challenges includes: integrated pest and nutrient management, improved water management, use of improved genotypes, advances in classical plant and animal breeding, and use of remote sensing and information technology. Application must be site specific and focus on resource efficient production.

Small-scale Agriculture

Increased investment, private-public partnerships, public investment in research, extension services, development oriented local governance should help to create and support cooperatives, farmer organizations, business associations, and scientific organizations supporting the needs of small-scale agricultural producers to produce sustainably without yield reductions. It is not enough just to provide for the farm itself but to provide for entrepreneurship, value added to the farm and off-farm enterprises needed to make the farm viable without adding large costs to marketing.
GL notes that all over the world, including Canada, small-scale farmers are losing access to the food chain due to standards which don't relate to how they produce and to disappearance of small-scale processing such as butchering, freezing, canning, milling and so on. For example, processors often require farmers to go under contract, to grow only a certain named variety of tomato, wheat, animal breed or whatever, and only if the specifications are met will the food be accepted for sale to the processor.
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Organic food is often promoted as part of the locavore's food choices although there is often a conflict: organic from far away or local. Just as the cumulative effects of low levels of pollution can harm the ecosystem (see separate article about the report from CESD), so Derek Lynch of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College makes the case of incremental environmental benefit of certified organic agricultural productions systems. The talk was part of the workshop on resilient farm systems organized by the Canadian Institute of Environmental Law and Policy CIELAP. Empirical evidence about the truth of the environmental benefits of organic food production in Canada and North America are scarce and haven't been summarized. Lynch attempts that summary and reviews the indicators for "(i) soil organic matter storage and soil quality/soil health (ii) plant and wildlife biodiversity (iii) energy use (iv) nutrient loading and off-farm nutrient losses, and (v) climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. "
More research is needed, he writes but the evidence points to "potentially important environmental benefits."


Many people view the benefits of organic from a health view rather than benefits for environment and climate change and improved animal welfare. An AC Neilsen survey in 2005 indicated that 78% of North American consumers said they bought organic food due to making a healthier choices compared to 67% for Europeans. Only 11% North Americans identified environmental benefits compared to 19% of Europeans and only 2% mentioned animal welfare compared to 12% of Europeans. The certification system is based on a broad benefit of the farming system to society rather than benefits to the individual eater.


For tens of years, European organic farmers have received payments for services provided to the public good e.g protection of water, biodiversity. As a result, Europe has extensive research on organic production and public education on the value of government support for such practices. For the 2008 international conference on Organic Agriculture and Climate Change, only 5% of the 45 presentations were from research outside of Europe. Examples of some research conclusion include:

While critics of organic system talk about their use of tillage compared to conventional farms use of no-till with chemical herbicides, the net effects of tillage combined with green manure and mechanical weed control have been studied only occasionally. A USDA study found in a comparison of four management systems, the organic soil had the greatest soil total carbon and nitrogen at all depths at the end of the studies. Efforts are underway to reduce the amount of tillage in organic through crop rollers for grains and hair vetch cover crop for vegetables. Use of legumes in grazed pastures also promotes soil organic carbon.

While organic farmers often experience a yield reduction in transition years (when they convert from conventional to organic), a 13 year study of the Maine Potato Ecosystem Study found improved soil quality through use of compost and green manures under the organic management system improved potato yields year over year. So non-irrigated potatoes in a two year rotation were less set back by lack of rain. Corn in organically managed soil had higher yields in five dry years of a ten year comparison at Rodale Institute Farming Trial.


Organic sites in Ontario had more native and exotic plant species than in conventional sites. Some species were only found in organic hedgerows including long-lived forest species.

Field margins and non-crop habitats are disappearing in some farm landscapes and strong evidence shows this has adverse effects on wildlife, including beneficial insects and birds. Organic systems tend to have larger variety of crops and non-crop plant species.

Insect pollinators and insect pollinated plant species benefited the most from organic farming. When pollinators such as bees are threatened by collapse, maintenance of habitat for them might be especially beneficial. Whether different organic systems are better than others, is not known.

A study of 15 commercial organic dairy farms in Ontario found reduced level of farm nutrient loading and less -off-farm losses to air and water compared to more intensive livestock. Low phosphorus is common.
Eastern Canada is known for the last two decades to be a source of nitrate losses. Organic apple orchards in Washington had 4.4 to 5.6 times greater nitrate leaching in conventional compared to organic plots. Green manures (crops grown as a cover and then tilled or rolled in) seems important to avoid excessive N release.

Climate: one study of four types of farm system found none of the systems mitigated global warming potential. Including the inputs, the no-till system has the lowest GWP (14), followed by organic (41), low input (63) and conventional (114) The organic orchard study concluded that the organic soil had denitrification efficiency compared to conventional or integrated orchard management. Reduced nitrate leaching under the organic system converting it to benign N2 had climate benefits.

Lynch, Derek, Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Truro, NS. Environmental Impacts of Organic Agriculture: a Canadian Perspective. at CIELAP's 4th Partnering for Sustainability Workshop. Achieving Resilient Agricultural Systems: Innovation, People and Partnerships. November 13 and 14, 2008.

A paper presented at the 2009 Cornell Nutrition Conference generated lots of articles on the farm web pages entitles ""Environmentally Friendly" Food Myths Debunked". Patrick Gallagher's article in Ontario Farmer was headed "Buying local foods not the best option for being green" with a more cautious subtitle: "A research paper finds that getting foods from local farmers can cause a larger eco footprint."

Although the paper endorses the use of life cycle assessment LCA, this is more a farm sector analysis than LCA as commonly accepted for industrial application. The authors try to compare 2007 US dairy production to 1944 US dairy production (actually explained in another article but the reader can view that earlier one also as well as more than 20 others) and conclude that the overall environmental impacts are less in 2007 than in 1944. Factors which lead to that conclusion include higher yield of milk per cow so fewer cows, attributing nutrients from pasture grass and hay consumed by horses used as traction animals and cows for milk as "energy" and much more concentrated land use.

The paper also says that in regard to 1944 that "many of these characteristics (low-yielding, pasture-based, no antibiotics, inorganic fertilizers, or chemical pesticides) are similar to those of modern organic systems." A letter to the Ontario Farmer the week after the newspaper wrote about the study suggests this fails to recognize the advances in which have been made in organic farming. GL also notes that 1944 in the US was probably not a characteristic year at all as it was a war year with extraordinarily high cow numbers on farms. The US was feeding itself and its allies whose land was out of production so it was total dairy supply that was the priority. For many farmers, milk cows had been just a side business so they hadn't paid much attention to the herd, never mind yield per cow. When the war ended in 1945 and in the years that followed, the number of cows (and eventually numbers of farmers) was ramped down drastically as the high dairy output wasn't needed. Also in 1945, DDT was released to farmers.


The article is peer-reviewed but it is an animal science journal rather than an environmental journal or one specializing in life cycle analysis. The article doesn't tell the reader enough about what are called the system boundaries of the LCA. LCA is supposed to mean from cradle-to-grave of the product from raw material to its end-of-life, although some other studies don't cover the entire lifecycle either. However, it has to be clear what the LCA does and doesn't include. There has to be a limit somewhere but defining the boundaries to include the major impacts of the product or service throughout its life is important to make better environmental decisions. For example, including the fossil fuels used to produce corn for ethanol makes ethanol a lot less environmentally beneficial than if the boundary starts in the processing plant. The study method is called life cycle for a reason.

Another feature of LCA is Inventory Analysis which details the inputs (materials, energy, and water), the stages (raw material acquisition, manufacturing/production, use/reuse/maintenance and recycle/waste management) and outputs (emissions, effluents, solid waste, other releases, products, and co-products). The article assesses energy based on cow nutrient (e.g. how many calories the cow gets from eating grass and from intensely farmed feed crops) rather than on what most of us would be think is the environmental impact, that is how much fossil fuel not solar energy is used. For example, the article doesn't discuss how much energy is due to row crop production, direct energy consumption in the form of gasoline, diesel fuel, liquid petroleum, natural gas and electricity or how much indirect energy use due to use of inputs such as lime, nitrogen, and other fertilizers which have a significant energy component associated with their production. Feed is likely the highest energy input but energy is also used in feed supplements, drugs, attendance by the vet and breeders, automatic feeders, milking equipment, heating/cooling/venting barns, manure collection, storage and transport of dead stock, etc. And more materials and equipment are needed today for such features as cattle sewage lagoons due to dense cow-keeping.

Government subsidies, high yield and demand which doesn't keep up with the increase in yield has led to a debt crisis and overproduction of milk which might improve its human health impacts if surplus cheese found its way into hungry mouths. Otherwise the excess milk needs to be accounted as a waste/compost with associated impacts. Capper, who has no declared conflict of interest with Monsanto and other authors including from Monsanto, concluded that using recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) had net benefits for the environment. The genetically modified growth hormone is not approved for sale in Canada due more to animal health and welfare issues than human health concerns.

LCA also requires a full range assessment of the impacts including ecosystem health, human health, resource depletion and sometimes (and perhaps especially important for high-density livestock operations) social health. The authors aren't supposed to choose the ones they want and ignore the others without at least mentioning what effect these exclusions have on the overall conclusions.

Recently more emphasis is being put on identifying uncertainties in LCA so a study should state what the range of potential error is somewhat like polling data. In some cases, the range of potential error erases what seem to be comparative improvement in one product/service over another. Particularly in farming, there may be large variations.


GL thinks that generalizing for the whole of the dairy industry across the US fails to address regional impacts which are quite significant. California with its lack of water resources produces over 20% of the milk for the US with growing concerns about the air and water pollution especially in the San Joaquin Valley where three-quarters of the state's dairies are located; they average over 3,500 cows each with some as many as 8,000 cows.

According to the California Dairy Manure Technology Feasibility Assessment Panel, most emissions come from storage areas for feed, manure, and wastewater; animal housing; from cropland where manure is applied; equipment used on the facility; and enteric fermentation. Key environmental issues include salts and nitrates in drinking water causing health effects, insufficient cropland for the amount of manure, greenhouse gases, criteria air pollutants including particulates, VOCs and ground level ozone which contribute to the smog already a health hazard in the area, contamination of food or water by pathogens, aquatic toxicity due to ammonia, organic matter in water causing depletion of dissolved oxygen and nitrates and phosphorus promoting algal growth also leading to oxygen depletion. Many of these environmental hotspots are not well measured in this article.


There are also discussions of grass-fed beef versus conventional beef which have similar assumptions about energy use based on grass. An example of eggs completely avoids any discussion of LCA and talks about transporting eggs by truck over a large distance to the grocery story compared to a consumer driving a distance to a farm to pick up one dozen eggs, The illustration is fine in suggesting that consumers ought not to use that two tonne vehicle to make trips to buy one items but falls far short of even trying to do any kind of life cycle analysis on the eggs. The article has not achieved the rather lofty conclusion suggested by the title but it contributes to the important discussion about food and the environment.

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By Hugh Martin, Organic Crop Production Program Lead, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
This past summer there has been a couple of studies done for the organic sector in Ontario. Here are some of the conclusions for your interest.

The Strategic Counsel study looked at consumer attitudes towards organic. One of the filters for participants was that the study excluded people who do not buy organic and people who have a strong interest in buying organic, in other words the core consumers of organic. This survey mainly looks at people who could be the future growth market of organic. They also only surveyed people 18-64 years of age.
They found that the public is very aware of organic. A barrier to buying organic is that organic is perceived to be more expensive, and among this group there is not a strong belief that organic is healthier, fresher, tastier, or more nutritious. In other words they do not see enough extra value for their money. For these consumers, being local was not an important factor to increase the value of the product but it was an attribute they were interested in. Interestingly, these consumers would be willing to pay more for the organic product if it was certified.

Almost all consumers (98%) shop at supermarkets, 25% go to farmer's markets, 17% meat markets, and 12% shop at local specialty stores.

90% of consumers feel there is a difference between organic and non-organic products but only 10% feel there is a great deal of difference. The main attributes they attribute to organic are pesticide-free, it must be certified organic, and meat must be antibiotic-free. 74% said they would be more interested in buying organic if they knew it was certified organic but there is also some scepticism on whether the industry does a good job of certification.

The other study was by the George Morris Centre which looked at the overall opportunities and challenges in the organic sector. They interviewed a number of people in the sector and compiled information from a number of other reports.

They estimated that retail sales of organic food was $1.6B in 2008 in Canada. Likewise production has been growing across Canada but growth of organic production in Ontario has been slower than in many other areas. The challenge is to understand why? Production capacity was seen as one of our biggest challenges and opportunities.

They interviewed some retailers (small survey size) and found that many of the larger stores carry organic as a customer service for their organic consumers but that organic is not top of mind for retailers, likely because it is a small volume product line. These retailers do not see value to being local but do require that it be certified organic. Organic is seen as a small but rapidly growing market.

The main opportunity was seen to be able to take advantage of the growth in the sector. The main threat currently is the effect of the global recession and whether growth will rebound to previous levels or plateau at growth levels below those of the past decade. The price premiums are also seen to dampen growth of organic food sales. The current high value of the Canadian dollar makes it more difficult to take advantage of global markets and permits imported products to compete more effectively in Canada.

Our strength is that Ontario is blessed with natural resources and an excellent climate for producing a wide range of products. Our large population and demographics provides a large potential market for organic. They see the new federal regulations, standards and logo as being a strength for the organic foods sector. Another strength is that organic is attracting younger farmers. Foodland Ontario is seen as a strength to help market Ontario grown organic products to customers.
The weaknesses are our short growing seasons, a lack of infrastructure in many parts of the industry, slaughter capacity, lack of research, information sources and data for market analysis on the sector. They also noted a lack of coordination between local and organic and a lack of consumer knowledge about organic production.

It is interesting to look at these two studies to see their overlaps and various observations. The challenge for the Ontario organic sector is how do we respond to these challenges and opportunities.

Reprinted from Ecological Farming in Ontario / EFAO News November-December 2009. p2 [ cover page and table of contents only, magazine by subscription or membership in the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. GL's editor is also the editor.] Martin also produces a free online newsletter on the Ministry website. and his newsletter is also posted at

In April 2008, the UK supermarket chain Tesco launched a number of products with the carbon footprint label using the standard PAS 2050 which sets out the methodology for measuring greenhouse gases from products or services. The standard has been developed as a partnership with the Carbon Trust, DEFRA, a UK Ministry and the British Standards BSA. Orange juice and potatoes were labelled as well as non-food products. According to the press release organic new potatoes had 160 g per 250g serving the same as conventional potatoes. Organic new potatoes had 140g also the same as to conventional new potatoes for the same 250g serving. Prepared new conventional potatoes with butter were 200 g per 150 g serving. No organic prepared equivalent is offered for sale. The Soil Association in Britain said that the label doesn't take into account the carbon stored by organically managed soil which would reduce the footprint by 25-75%. Tesco said that though the organic fertilizers reduce the footprint the organic potatoes are grown with irrigation which increases the carbon footprint.

Carbon Trust. Tesco and Carbon Trust join forces to drive forward carbon labelling: Tesco puts Carbon Trust Carbon Reduction Label on 20 products in Tesco stores. April 28, 2008.

As the title of his book The War in the Country: How the Fight to Save Rural Life Will Shape Our Future suggests, Thomas Pawlick has a strong view about rural life and farmers. For example, Chapter 2 is titled: "How it used to be: Traditional farmers were in tune with each other, their community and their environment." Pawlick must be a romantic because how it used to be is not at all so homogenized or cozy as he suggests. Some farmers, some communities might have fit his view and still do but others did not. For years, some farmers have chosen the large-scale approach and nobody made them do it. It wasn't just yesterday when farmers began to strip the trees, hedgerows and wetlands away so they could use bigger machinery, erected large barns for multiple layer poultry and pig rearing or feedlot beef, planted crops without rotation, applied chemicals without regard to the effect on the environment or engaged in practices leading to soil erosion.

Even though GL knows that many farmers have quite different ideas to Pawlick, some of his chapters about the call to arms are riveting. For example, he describes how quotas such as for dairy which were given away free now have become commodities to such an extent that it is impossible for a young farmer to begin to farm. The supply management boards set restrictive and inflexible rules such as limiting n free-range poultry or neglecting heritage breeds because the hatcheries are growing only a very narrow genetic band. He also discusses federal and provincial regulations which create bureaucratic overload for farmers, for example barriers such as CFIA requiring the farm poultry not have exposure to wild animals or birds. GL knows well the stories of the SWAT-style raids on small-scale producers not following those controls and the over 50% of the price charged by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario to sell fruit wines but still the writing draws one to read these stories. He really does create a picture of war as governments favour and fund the big farms at the expense of the smaller scale farmers.

He suggests that to protect the rural countryside requires either Ontario Landowners Association, founded by Randy Hillier, or the National Farmers Union. Hillier now an MPP in the Ontario provincial legislature certainly has a fight mentality: he has just been suspended by the Speaker due to calling the Premier a liar, banging the tables in the Legislature and refusing to apologize. Pawlick says it is also time for urban dwellers to make common cause with their beleaguered rural counterparts. GL likes the two way street better where yes, urbanites care what happens in the country but what about farmers caring about what happens in the city, where many of the people are considerably less well-off than many of the farmers. Anyway, whatever the reader's views, some blood pressure is bound to rise from reading this book but it also provides a better understanding of where farmers who share Pawlick's views are coming from.

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In a presentations at the 2009 Guelph Organic Conference, Shannyn Kornelsen of Wilfred Laurier University notes the long history of the consumer losing skills not only in meal preparation but also in nutritional and environmental knowledge about food choices. She suggests that alternative food movements challenge the industrial food system by creating a stronger connection between producers and consumers, such as through CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) schemes, farm markets and farm gate sales.
One of the aims of the alternative food movement is to reskill the consumer to start thinking about the food system and its sustainability. Despite the plethora of cooking shows on television, cookbooks and internet recipes, fewer people cook than ever before. Many don't know how to make a meal from scratch and opt for processed, prepared and convenience foods. There is also "a decline in informed shopping, food storage and preservation, a lack of holistic nutritional knowledge, and the social or environmental impacts of food choices."
She describes the "systematic deskilling process" among which are:
In 2010, the 7th Annual Conference for Social Research in Organic Agriculture chaired by Jennifer Sumner from OISE/University of Toronto will be held as part of the 2010 Guelph Organic Conference January 28-31.

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The Manitoba Food Charter Local Food report gives examples of 37 opportunities which the provincial government could take in addition to what it has already done to make the province more food secure. A food secure province is defined as "one in which all people can access and afford healthy, nutritious foods and a vibrant and environmentally sustainable agricultural sector provides adequate livelihoods for food producers and processors."

Almost 10% of Manitoba households are food insecure. The distribution of food insecurity is uneven with one quarter of lone female-led households and one third of off-reserve native people's household being insecure. There are health consequences for being food insecure as these people consume fewer essential nutrients, have a greater risk of obesity and are more likely to report poor health, emotion distress and the children have more behaviour disorders than the general population. Households with insufficient income don't eat well. Less than one-third of Manitobans eat five or more servings of vegetables and fruits a day as recommended by the Canada Food Guide. Poor diet linked to chronic disease has serious consequences for the health system. The current food system used high amounts of fossil fuels to grow, process and transport food.
Among some of the discussion are the impacts of food insecurity in northern communities:
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The US Department of Agriculture launched a program in September called Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food. The goal is to "to connect people more closely with the farmers who supply their food, and to increase the production, marketing and consumption of fresh, nutritious food that is grown locally in a sustainable manner."
The press release says that while low fuel prices have led to the globalization of the US food system with food shipped over large distances, the USDA Agricultural Research Service supports more reliance on "the strategic production of locally grown food can counter the challenges of rising transport costs, growing population demands and vanishing farmlands." One of the research studies will look at weather, soil, land use and water available along the Eastern Seaboard to map where food production could meet current and future demand. Another study will examine the flow of farm products into the supply chains including handling and transport from field to market and determine to what extent local food in the Eastern Seaboard can reduce costs and provide other benefits.

Apparently, for the occasion, fried foods and doughnuts were banned from the USDA cafeteria for a day.

GL thinks that this concept Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is the single most significant driver behind the local food movement. Direct purchasing from farmers at the farm through Community Supported Agriculture (where the consumer pays ahead for food for the season and picks up weekly at the farm or at pick up points) and farm markets help to make connections between the farmer and the eater. Farmers may help to educate the eaters e.g. how to prepare or store the food, how to eat seasonally; the eaters help the farmer understand what can be done to meet their needs and wants.

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In its first corporate responsibility report, Sobeys Atlantic claims to work "with hundreds of local growers and producers, and purchases hundreds of millions of dollars worth of locally produced food annually." The company says, "We are continually working to expand our assortment of locally grown or produced products and to promote these products and local suppliers in our flyers and in-store point-of- sale materials." In 2008, the Choose Atlantic program increased purchase of Atlantic Canadian produce by more than 25%. Signage at the farms supplying Sobeys' tells customers "Fresh produce grown here available at Sobeys Choose Atlantic."
Sobey's Ontario is said to get
The report describes the work Ontario region's procurement teams do with producers including storage techniques to extend the shelf life of products and prolong the Ontario product offering past the traditional growing season. The goal is to sell Ontario apples year-round and to improve shipping and packing of peaches. The report states, "In addition to purchasing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Ontario grown or raised products every year, Sobeys Ontario works closely with Foodland Ontario, the province's program to promote Ontario producers, to develop marketing and merchandising programs for Ontario products. To further increase consumer awareness and knowledge of Ontario products and build upon Foodland Ontario's efforts, we have introduced the "Ontario Fresh Pick" program into the region's Foodland and IGA stores and launched a "Grown in Ontario for Sobeys" program"

Local buying is also done in other regions if "we can be sure that our food safety and quality standards are met and the supply is consistent, reliable and competitively priced." Sobeys also has a partnership with Québec's Union of Agricultural Producers to promote local products at IGA stores in Québec.

Reasons for local sourcing including:
Sobeys is planning to have its operating regions develop strategies to incorporate more local opportunities into their business plans.
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GL's editor met a dairy farm supplier exhibiting at the Guelph Organic Conference last year who said he used to drive around the countryside and enough farmers asked about organic dairy supplies he decided there was a market. That was it: it was good business to supply the demand. Other exhibitors there also made money from supplying the organic demand but had a much deeper commitment to doing so; they tended to be the ones which have played a much greater role in supporting the development of organic farming and products early in the process when it didn't seem to make much good business sense to external observers. Organic farmers often break down into similar camps, for example, some dairy farmers are attracted by the premium on organic milk rather than by the concept of organic dairy per se.

Environmental businesses also may be in it for different reasons including sometimes just to make money. Of course, all businesses have to make money to stay in business. GL doesn't have any problem with motivations as long as businesses get environmental results but prefers those more environmentally committed for working together in longer term partnerships. Commitment though can also bring frustration at the slow pace of progress. There is a big gap between planning and implementation when governments and companies get involved in environmental strategies. Those who think Who killed the electric car? is a travesty ought to view behind the scenes of other environmental initiatives which progress so far and then are dropped off the face of the planet due to changes in executives, mergers, changes of government or something else. Sometimes portions of these plans are resurrected years later but at the loss of so much time and cumulative environmental improvement. Without mentioning a particular company, Jack McGinnis of RDC Group, long involved in helping companies and municipalities reduce waste, expressed some of the frustration "As always, very good information in the GL. Just wanted to send this quick note to says thanks also for the nostalgia moment. I can still remember the shock and awe that ran through the corporate offices in Canada the night when the news hit that the North American operations were caving in on the issue. We were so far down the road to what we felt was success in Canada, but we'd also made such progress in the US. Dumping all that work in the trash bin was a painful moment, as you well know. And while it's not one of my happiest moments I still wanted to thank you for the memories."

RDC Group.

McGinnis also invites those in the Durham Region (Ontario) area for Green Drinks the 2nd Wednesday of each month. Durham Region Green Drinks is one group among 623 groups in cities around the world where people working, studying or interested in sustainability or green energy can meet and chat in a low-key, informal way with others of similar interests. The event, the next one is January 13, 2010, is near the Whitby GO station and attendees are encouraged to take public transit or carpool with a designated driver.
Durham Sustain Ability (DSA). Contact: Rachael Wraith, Public Relations Coordinator at rachael// and

Five companies won awards, the first Canada Export Achievement Awards. given by Export Development Canada EDC and PROFIT Magazine in November. Two of the winners have environmental features. Via Vegan Ltd (Montreal Quebec) designs handbags made of recycled plastic bottles with production in Asia. Bioteq Environmental Technologies Inc (Vancouver, British Columbia) has found markets in China and elsewhere for its waste-water treatment plants and technologies.

Export Development Canada EDC and PROFIT Magazine announce winners of inaugural Canada Export Achievement Awards. Ottawa, Ontario: November 26, 2009.

Issues associated with the production of food run the gamut of diversity and interpretations. As this issue of GL has illustrated, there may be a greater range of sustainability issues associated with food than with just about any other consumer activity.

For example, demand for specific foods may cause environmental harm. Highly regarded food specialities such as bird's nest soup, in Asian cultures, has led to decline of the species of birds from which nests are collected. Headline examples include: "Bird's Nest Soup: Savory Delicacy or Gourmet Cruelty?"

Locally available food is often seen as vaguely romantic but can be linked to poverty. Sometimes the use of locally available food is somewhat of an insult. When Stephen Colbert recently alleged that the US speed skating team was denied access to Canadian Olympic facilities and called Canadians syrup-suckers, it wasn't a compliment. Newfoundlanders recall the embarrassment of having to take lobster sandwiches to school, back in the days when lobster was eaten primarily by low income people. In the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the artist depicts the Potato Eaters, a group of peasants who were thought to not belong to civilized society but were fascinating because they used the same hands to dig in the dirt as they used to eat the potatoes.

Local and alternate food innovations can become mainstream. At a recent dairy conference in the US, one of the keynote speakers spoke of the potential market growth for yoghurt which was "once thought to be only for "beards, beatniks and Birkenstocks" and is now consumed at the rate of 12 pounds per person per year. In Europe consumption ranges from 32 to 62 pounds per person per year, with the highest figure in Switzerland. Granola, coloured or banana shaped potatoes, leafy lettuce, whole grain baked goods and the whole idea of organic was also once regarded as fringe and mostly only available locally.

In the tropics, many people won't eat the big bananas which are exported but instead have many varieties of their own. Commercialization is destroying this rich domesticated biodiversity, much of which is adapted to the locality. Canada used to have hundreds of different types of apples and now most people have encountered fewer than half a dozen types in their lifetime. This increases the vulnerability of the food supply if a narrow genetic band of crops, fruits, vegetables and livestock is threatened by disease, pests or climate change. If modern breeding methods are applied to local breeds, the trait selection may undermine the conservation value of the breed. e.g. heritage cattle breeds often supply both milk and as meat so trying to select for milk production may damage the reason why the animal exists as a breed.

Some people and regions are much more sensitive to food quality, taste, freshness, and local preservation of unique livestock and plants. In a conference in August in Barcelona, the European Federation of Animal Science had a number of sessions on meat quality and the role of local and heritage breeds. One paper describes the purebred Iberian pigs which are fattened with acorns and pasture to produce expensive dry-cured products, a specialized food for "high sensorial quality." The pigs are slow growing and attempts to genetically select for better growth rate decreases the unique flavour of the meat. Other pigs are also used to make the cured products but do not provide the same experience.

The local basis of some foods makes them inherently value-added. For years, the French were the fine wine producers of the world. Then California came to get some lessons from them and turned the US, and now Canada and other countries, into major wine producers. Canadian researchers are trying to grow truffles, otherwise only available at a high price from such countries as Italy and France. In turn, both wild and cultivated blueberries are inherently Canadian but Canadian blueberry growers provided twenty blueberry plants to a grower in England where GL's editor found them propagated to commercial acreage at a U-pick operation in Dorset. After the chestnut blight, not much in the way of edible nuts were sold as farm product in Ontario but Ernest Grimo in Niagara-on-the-Lake, along with fellow nut (and previously thought to be nutty) growers in the Society of Ontario Nut Growers SONG, has been breeding walnuts, hazelnuts, butternuts, chestnuts, heartnuts and other nut trees to adapt to Ontario conditions. They are beginning to crack into a new potential market by selling Ontario hazelnuts to the Ferrero Canada plant, near Brantford, for Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Grimo also sells trees from his nursery and GL's editor just cracked our first (and so far only) English walnut this fall.

The Farm

For some, "agriculture" includes all the ways people get food: livestock, crops, aquaculture, fishing, hunting, foraging, plantation forestry (agro-forestry). and fisheries. In Africa alone, there are at least 20 major kinds of farming systems including subsistence, small and large-scale, irrigated and not, crop or tuber-based, hoe or machine cultivated, highland or lowland each managed with highly variable production methods.

A number of corporations which may be vast integrated companies call themselves farms. There may be farms somewhere in their portfolio but the companies aren't farms. The effect is homey with somewhat the same as Martha Stewart cooking in her own kitchen as if she didn't head a huge corporation. Examples include: Cuddy Farms Limited, Pepperidge Farm©), Hickory Farms, and Oakrun Farm Bakery.

Different governments use different definitions of what a farm product is and they eliminate businesses from farm benefits based on different criteria. In the US, a farm qualifies for subsidies if it sells at least $1000 worth of farm products; in Canada gross revenues have to be at least $7000. Obviously at the lower ends of gross revenues, these are small or micro farms but how big a farm has to be to become "industrial" or a "factory farm" is a little less clear.

Family Businesses

Some complain that corporate farms get the megashare of government funding while "family farms" get peanuts. The problem is there is no definition of the family farm. Forbes had an article on the richest "family businesses" which includes Cargill, the largest private company in America by revenue. Cargill controls a massive agricultural empire.

At the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto in November GL witnessed auctioneers selling dairy cows for $20,000 and, wow, $56,000 for a single animal. Only later did we hear about the sale of a Holstein cow at $1.2 million. The seller was Morsan Farms Ltd in Ponoka Alberta which also sold 127 other cows. It describes itself as a family business with emphasis on Holstein genetics. Morsan Farms is also a working dairy and milks 800 cows in Alberta and another 400 in Saskatchewan.

But most farms in Canada and the US are defined as family farms. The US Economic Research Service defines family farms specifically on operator ownership and control - individuals related - the operator and individuals related to the operator by blood, marriage or adoption own more than 50% of the business. Even if the farm is incorporated and other investors are brought in, it could still be a family farm. Farms are not family if a hired manager runs the farm, if it is a partnership or corporation amongst non-related people or other structures such as estates, trusts, grazing associations and corporations with dispersed ownership. In 2006 ERS defined 97% of all farms in the U.S. as family farms. 92% of farms with agricultural sales of $250,000 or more were also designated as family farms. These generated 84% of total U.S. agricultural sales.

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One of the important messages of the report by Scott Vaughan, federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development released in November is the "cumulative impact of hundreds of environmental pressures that often go unnoticed and that build up over time." While single accidents, spills, dramatic events such as the collapse of the salmon fisheries get high-profile and attention, failure to monitor and deal with the the lower-impact, longer-term effects may do more harm.
When projects are assessed under the Environmental Assessment Act, conditions to avoid or reduce environmental damage are often required but the government has no systematic approach to monitoring whether these have been implemented and whether the implementation has led to the expected pollution reduction, habitat or species protection. Many projects are assessed as if they were stand-alone projects but new projects are approved for areas already intense with other projects such as the Alberta oil sands or where historically environment damage has already been done.

Over 100 federal agencies can apply their own discretion to limit the scope of environmental assessment leading to "a process-heavy system in which costly assessment may examine and report on only part of a project."
Office of the Auditor-General of Canada. Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. The Commissioner's Perspective--2009. November 2009.
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