Organic By Design; Guelph Organic Confrence & Expo

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Written by Caroline Elworthy

Walking into the local grocery store one is bombarded with advertisements beckoning one with the promise of no GMO, gluten free, organically sourced, locally derived, lactose free but also soy free. Yet the transparency of these terms is not discussed enough or explained to the people who are actually buying them.

This past weekend, Guelph got a little bit more “Guelph-ier”, with the arrival of the four day Annual Organic Conference & Expo, Organic By Design, which took place in the University Centre this past

Guelph graduates of the renowned agriculture program dreamed up the conference in the winter of 1982. Because of the state of the organic market in the late 90’s the expo could hardly attract the volume of visitors or booths that it receives today. The conference became sponsored and promoted by the Organic Food Conferences Canada’, a federal non-profit organization in 2003 and has become a widely anticipated Guelph event.

The Expo attracted over 600 visitors over the four day show, with over 157 booths spanning the entire area of the University Centre and overflowing into Peter Clark Hall. The exhibitors included farm suppliers, seed vendors, the National Farmers Union, research institutions, family run farm booths, horticultural equipment suppliers, educational institutions and locally sourced sale exhibitors.  

The Expo also ran workshops and featured speakers throughout the four-day conference. Workshops and lectures were included on topics such as, The ABC’s of food safety for organic agriculture; So You Want to Start an Organic Farm, Tips for Success, Raising Your Kids on An Organic Farm andRe-Indigenizing the Alternative Food System. A keynote forum was held Friday evening, titled, “Forum on National Organic Farming Issues: The State of the Organic Nation."

Wondering throughout the Expo on a break from studying, the sheer amount of passion and information gathered in such a concentrated space overwhelmed me. I set myself the goal of becoming more educated on a term that I have been exposed to, but haven’t’ fully grasped the meaning of.

A GMO refers to genetically modified organisms, such as plants or animals which are created or modified using genetic engineering. This essentially means that DNA from one species is inserted into another, therefore creating an unstable combination of genes which is completely unnatural. When a crop or seed has been modified, it is with the intention that it will become resistant to commercial herbicides. This method of creating laboratory-grown seeds is used by large co-operations to produce a large profit. As there is no mandatory labelling protocol on genetically engineered foods in Canada and no system to monitor the long-term health impacts the effects have not been properly measured or displayed to consumers.  

 According to Nature’s Path, it is estimated that over 80 per cent of packaged foods in the US and Canada contain genetically engineered ingredients. In Canada, the four main crops which are genetically engineered and available on the market are corn, canola, soy and sugar beet. These crops are then used in a variety of products including corn oil, eggs, milk and meat, canola oil, soy oil, tofu, sugar and vegetable oil found in processed foods such as potato chips.  GMO’s not only harm the environment by decreasing bio-diversity, but also carry toxins, allergens and growth hormones that can be harmful for humans to ingest.

Eating certified organic food is a sure way to avoid genetically engineered foods, as this method is strictly forbidden in organic practices. Buying products which participate in the Non-GMO Project will help to put pressure on the Canadian government to implement labelling laws. Farmers face multiple barriers when attempting to sell their local produce to grocery stores as large scale corporations constantly demand large quantities of food all year long at a cheap price, devaluing the price of locally grown food. Food production around the world is responsible for 10 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions, simply because so much of our food is imported and therefore transported from different countries. Buying local not only supports the local economy, but also helps to reduce the demand for imported goods.

For more information the conference and excellent resources for anyone interested in becoming more involved or informed on organic production, check out the conference’s website at www.guelphorganicconf.ca.

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