Get the real “dirt” on farming- check out this great roundup of info about where your food comes from, straight from the people who know!
Thanks to the Farmers Feed Cities initiative, we recently had an opportunity to learn more about how Ontario farms operate, and what exactly goes into the food we eat. Want to know too? We’ve got some of your most important questions answered below. But first, a little trivia from our friends on the farm:
Did You Know….
- 1 Ontario Farm can produce enough food for 120 People
- 11 Days + Ontario Corn = Oxygen for Ontario for 1 Year
- Farming is Ontario’s 2nd Largest Industry
- 98% of Ontario Farms are Family Owned
- A 10X20 Foot Field of Wheat = 26 Boxes of Cereal
- Only 27% of the money spent on an entire week’s worth of groceries for four people goes back to the farm- and although consumer food prices go up, the amount that goes back to the farmer stays the same, or even goes down
- Canadian research has led to a new vaccine against diarrhea in piglets caused by a strain of E.coli. These kinds of innovations help farmers reduce their need for animal medications.
How Safe Are the Foods We Eat?
About Pesticides and Animal Health Products
Wondering about recent media reports of foods being laden with chemical pesticides, antibiotics and hormones? According to the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC), “Canada has one of the most stringent product approval, residue monitoring and control systems in the world, with a strong focus on safety and efficacy”. Their Real Dirt on Farming II booklet also states these products are used sparingly and work well in terms of raising yields, quality of the foods produced and help keep food prices affordable and in the case of antibiotics, help keep animals healthy and productive.
How “Minimal” Are the Chemical Residues?
There are smaller and smaller quantities of chemical residues in our food, according to OFAC. “Where we once were looking for parts per million, we’re now able to detect parts per billion, or even trillion.” That’s equivalent to one blade of grass in a sports field, or $1 out of $1 billion.
The book also states “The chemical and medicinal products coming on the market are getting better and better- narrowly targeted, fast-acting, breaking down benignly (in the case of pesticides) and with precise withdrawal timing (in the case of animal medicines) to minimize the possibility of drug residues in our food and adhere to safety standards and regulations.”
According to OFAC, crop protection and animal health products are expensive, so farmers only use them when necessary and there is no incentive for farmers to over use such products or over-medicate their animals. If food products are found to have residues, they would be condemned, which means the farmers would have to destroy them and wouldn’t get paid for producing them, which would pose a significant loss and the farmer could also face significant fines.
OFAC also points out the fact that farmers live where they work- they breathe the air and drink the water from the wells on their farms, and eat the food they grow. If they thought any of the crop protection products or medications they used were harmful, they wouldn’t be exposing themselves or their own families to it. There are ongoing educational and quality assurance programs in place, and farmers must take a course and pass an exam in order to become certified to purchase and use pesticides.
What About the Use of Hormones?
OFAC states: “Hormones occur naturally in animals, plants and people. Some beef cattle farmers will use hormone implants to improve how efficiently an animal converts the food it eats to muscle. Improving “feed efficiency” means fewer resources (less feed and water) are used and less manure is produced. This is good for the environment.” They also point out that the level of hormones in beef from cattle given hormonal growth supplements is virtually no different than the level found in beef from cattle not given the supplements, and there is more variation in hormone levels between animals of different sexes than between treated and untreated animals. “Hormone treatments have been safely used in the Canadian beef industry for more than 30 years”. Check out www.beefinfo.org/hormones for more information.
Concerned About Estrogen in Beef?
Here are some interesting numbers according to OFAC (a nanogram = 1 billionth of a gram):
- A pre-pubescent girl produces 54,000 nanograms of estrogen daily
- A pre-pubescent boy produces 41,600 nanograms of estrogen daily
- A single oral contraceptive pill contains 20,000 – 50,000 nanograms of estrogen
- A tablespoon (15ml) of soybean oil contains 28,773 nanograms of estrogen-equivalent activity in the form of “phytoestrogens”
- A 250 ml glass of milk naturally contains 36 nanograms of estrogen
- A 100 gram serving of beef from cattle not given growth promotants normally contains about 1.5 nanograms of estrogen
- Beef from cattle treated with growth promotants contains 2.2 nanograms of estrogen
A Note About rBST Hormone:
In the US, a product called rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) is approved for use in dairy cows to increase how much milk they produce. It’s a hormone that actually occurs naturally in the pituitary glands of all cattle that can be given to cows to boost their milk production. According to OFAC, this product is NOT used in Canada.
Learn More About Your Food!
Full details on all of the information provided above, and much much more about the foods grown here in Ontario, including organic foods, can be found by visiting the Farmers Feed Cities website, or any of their numerous Farmer’s Market or Fair exhibits, and through the “Friend a Farmer” program. Check out the website for details!
Photo credits: Hector Vasquez Photography