Why Your Food Choices Matter
Your food choices can help protect our environment, support your health, and build a better future for food and farming.
What’s the Problem?
Much of the food we eat is produced through a long chain of steps in a global system that contributes to the climate crisis, puts harmful toxins into our environment, and removes decision-making from farmers and consumers. This global food system is dominated by a few large companies that control the markets for seeds, pesticides and other technologies, as well as much of the distribution and sale of food in our communities.
Our global food system contributes 21%-37% of all global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities. This includes emissions from food production, as well as from related practices, such as land-use changes like clearing forests to make way for farming, manufacturing pesticides and fertilizers, and energy-intensive activities such as heating greenhouses, and processing, packaging and transporting food.
Agriculture itself – producing crops and animals – contributes approximately 12% of human greenhouse gas emissions. This includes emissions of nitrous oxide from fertilizers and methane from livestock production.
However, ecological and regenerative approaches to growing food can reduce emissions from farming and protect the environment. Agriculture is part of the problem, but it can also be a significant part of the solution.
Pesticides (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) are chemicals or mixtures of chemicals designed to kill weeds, insects, and other pests and diseases that can harm or destroy food crops. Many Canadian farms rely on the extensive use of synthetic pesticides which contaminate the soil, air and water, and can have detrimental impacts on human health and on biodiversity, including beneficial insects such as pollinators, and birds and aquatic life.
Agriculture uses large amounts of nitrogen fertilizers that release nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas about 300 times more powerful at causing climate warming than CO2. Runoff from excessive use of fertilizers and manure also commonly pollutes aquatic ecosystems, leading to dead zones in the water where fish and other organisms cannot survive.
Synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers are both petrochemical products, made from fossil fuels.
Over half of both the global seed and pesticide markets are controlled by just four companies. This high level of corporate concentration means higher prices for farmers, limited choices, and decreased seed diversity. These top companies are also global leaders in selling genetically engineered seeds.
Our global food system pushes farmers to grow large areas of just a few crops or “monocultures” that rely on corporate products such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
In North and South America, most corn, canola, soy and cotton crops are grown from genetically engineered seeds with their related herbicides.
In 2018, Canadian farmers spent 94% of their gross farm income to purchase these corporate products and other farm inputs.
BAYER is the largest seed company, second largest pesticide company, and largest seller of genetically engineered seed in the world. Since its merger with Monsanto in 2018, Bayer owns 22% of the global seed market and 18% of the global pesticide market.
What’s the Solution?
Ecological farming practices work to improve soil health, protect water resources, reduce the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, minimize emissions that contribute to the climate crisis, and promote seed diversity and biodiversity on and off the farm. These practices rely on farmers’ knowledge, natural systems and human labour, rather than on corporate products. This means that ecological farming relies on building communities and is a way of life.
Worldwide, organic farmers follow animal welfare and environmental practices, based on the four principles of health, ecology, fairness and care.
Organic farming is a set of ecological practices that are codified in a government-regulated standard. Certified organic farms are inspected every year by professional inspectors from independent certifying bodies to ensure they are following the Canada Organic Standard.
Certification lets you know that every step from farm to table protects and maintains the organic integrity of the farm.
Certified organic farmers do not use:
- synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers;
- genetically engineered seeds and animal feed (genetically modified organisms or GMOs);
- antibiotics routinely, or hormones to stimulate growth; and
- sewage sludge or waste from factory farms on their fields.
Remember: Organic food is a non-GMO choice.
When you purchase local food, you reduce the miles your food travels to get to you. This means fewer greenhouse gas emissions and fresher food. Buying fresh food directly from local farmers can also help reduce food waste and food packaging.
Buying directly from farmers helps you build a connection with the people who grow your food. It also puts more money into farmers’ pockets and helps keep more farmers in business, working on the land. This is important because we are losing farmland and farms in Canada (particularly small and medium-size farms), as farm debt increases and the cost of land and inputs increase. Farmers are less than 2% of Canada’s population, with an average age of 55. In addition, 30% of farmers work 30 hours or more a week on off-farm jobs, and 44% do some form of off-farm work to supplement their income.
Remember: Local food is not necessarily organic, and organic food is not always local. So keep your eye out for local food that is also grown using organic practices.
Your independent local food store and local food businesses can be part of the solution. Small businesses often have more flexibility to purchase local and seasonal food, build relationships with local farmers, and invest back into your community.
Independent stores face ever-mounting pressures in a marketplace that is dominated by big grocery chains. Five grocery companies – Loblaw, Sobeys/Safeway, Costco, Metro, and Walmart – control 80% of the food retail market in Canada. What and where you buy, both make a difference.
About the Author:
- International Panel on Climate Change. 2019. Special Report: Climate Change and Land. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/srccl/
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2019. Nutrient Pollution. The Sources and Solutions: Agriculture. https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/sources-and-solutions-agriculture
- CBAN. 2019. Corporate Control. www.cban.ca/corporatecontrol
- CBAN and Vigilance OGM. 2016. Comments submitted to the Competition Bureau re: Bayer-Monsanto merger. September 15. https://cban.ca/gmos/issues/corporate-control/comments-submitted-to-the-competition-bureau/
- CBAN. 2015. Where in the world are GM crops and foods? GMO Inquiry. www.gmoinquiry.ca/where
- Statistics Canada. 2019. Farm Income, 2018. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190528/dq190528a-eng.htm
- CBAN. 2019. Corporate Control. www.cban.ca/corporatecontrol
- Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario https://efao.ca/
- Shannon Jones, Four Principles of Organic Agriculture, The Canadian Organic Grower, April 2018. http://magazine.cog.ca/article/four-principles-organic-agriculture/
- Statistics Canada. 2017. 2016 Census of Agriculture https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/170510/dq170510a-eng.htm
- CBC Radio. 2017. Bread-fixing: Investigation into at least 7 companies. The Current. Dec 21. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-december-21-2017-1.4458465/bread-price-fixing-investigation-into-at-least-7-companies-1.4458469