As a mother of six children ranging in age from 2 to 11, Jean Mingarelli admits that she does not have the time or energy to become an environmental activist. But the 38-year-old resident of Rockland, Ont., 50 km east of Ottawa, said that environmentalism became part of her daily life four years ago when she noticed that beaches were being closed every summer in the Ottawa area. She has stopped using most commercially manufactured, chemical-based cleaning products, relying instead on such simple agents as olive oil and lemon juice to clean wooden furniture, or water and vinegar to wash her windows. She and her husband, Angelo, a math professor at Carleton University, also use a home filtration system to remove chlorine from tap water. Said Mingarelli: “What galvanized me was all the beaches being closed. I couldn’t live beside a magnificent river like the Ottawa River and just say, ‘Isn't that too bad.’ ” For Mingarelli and thousands of other Cana-
dians, local air and water quality have become major environmental issues. According to a poll conducted last spring through the Torontobased Decima Quarterly Report, 87 per cent of those questioned expressed concern about the quality of the environment in and around their homes. And 78 per cent of those polled also said that they believe that the quality of their environment directly affects their health and the health of their families. But the poll also revealed that only about 20 per cent of Canadians are firmly committed to making lifestyle changes, including purchasing organically grown fruits and vegetables, in order to protect the environment and their health.
But increasing numbers of Canadians are reacting through the choices they make as consumers to concerns about the impact of environment on personal health. Sales of bottled water have grown by more than 30 per cent annually over the past 10 years, reflecting anxieties over the quality of tap water. Sales of sunscreen lotions have increased sharply over
the past five years, in response to fears about skin cancer caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Said Pierre McClelland, marketing director of Mississauga, Ont.-based WhitehallRobins Inc., which sells the Paba Tan line of sunscreens: “Three or four years ago, people believed in getting a good tan and looking great. Now, people are saying they’re going to protect their skin first.”
Scrambling: According to public opinion polls conducted over the past four years for the Toronto-based Grocery Products Manufacturers of Canada, consumers are also becoming increasingly concerned about the use of chemical preservatives and additives in foods, and more shoppers are looking for organically grown produce. And a 1990 survey of 1,006 shoppers, commissioned by the Grocery Products Manufacturers, revealed that 64 per cent would read a label to find out if a product contained all-natural ingredients, an increase from 58 per cent the previous year. But only 32 per cent of those polled said that they would pay more for environmentally safe products. Still, price and “best before” dates on packages remain the top two issues for 95 per cent of consumers, the 1990 poll showed.
Many food manufacturers are now scrambling to meet the growing public demand for more nutritious, wholesome products, said Susan Leung, a Vancouver-based dietitian who advises several large B.C. companies on the types of food products they should be developing. Leung, president of Pacific Nutrition Consultants, said that she sees a direct link between diet and environmental issues. Said Leung: “When you eat basic, wholesome foods, less processed foods, you’re looking at an environmentally sound diet because there is very little waste.”
Some food processors are also attempting to ensure that their products are free of chemicals that are seen as potentially damaging to the environment, as well as to human health. Gary Fread, vice-president and chief technical officer of Toronto-based Campbell Soup Co. Ltd., said that the company is working with 75 southwestern Ontario vegetable growers to reduce the pesticides and herbicides they use on their crops. He said that the farmers supply vegetables to the company’s Chatham, Ont., plant, which produces soup, spaghetti sauce and V-8 juice. Most of the farmers now apply chemical sprays only when their crops are threatened by an identifiable pest, weed or fungus. Until this year, Fread added, the farmers sprayed their fields every summer as a routine preventive measure.
Consumers are not only demanding more
nutritious foods, they are also becoming more knowledgeable about food and diet in general. Leung said that she is the co-owner of Shop Smart Tours Inc., which takes ordinary consumers on guided tours of conventional, mainstream supermarkets. Leung said that the tours, conducted by professional nutritionists, last about 90 minutes. Shoppers are told how to reduce their fat intake, and how to determine the contents of a product by reading the label. The company runs 60 to 100 tours a month, each with eight to 10 shoppers, she said. The stores cover the cost of the tours.
Guidelines: But fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown without the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers remain specialty products. Currently, there are about 23 organizations in Canada certifying that produce and grains are organically grown.
Those groups are now working with Agriculture Canada to draft a standard set of guidelines to regulate chemicalfree farming. Wayne Parker, senior director of marketing with Torontobased Oshawa Foods, which operates the 215 Food City and IGA supermarkets in south-central Ontario, said that some of the company’s stores began installing 12-foot-wide sections for organic produce two years ago. Those fruits and vegetables cost 20 per cent more, on average, than conventional produce, he said. As a result, the organics did not sell well, particularly as the economy began to falter.
Parker said that many of the sections have now been reduced in size or eliminated. He added that Oshawa Foods has its own quality-control inspector who visits farms to ensure that the produce is grown without the jt use of chemicals.
For his part, Russell Precious, coowner of a West Vancouver naturalfood store and restaurant called Capers, said that public interest in organically grown produce rose sharply in February, 1989, following news reports that Alar, a chemical ripener sprayed on apples, had been linked to cancer in children. He said that his own sales increased by 25 per cent in the month following the Alar scare, but gradually declined again after media and public attention faded. Said Precious: “The whole question of environmental shopping peaked about a year ago and has fallen off.”
But those who have switched to organic produce contend that such fruits and vegetables are tastier as well as healthier. Susan Cameron, a 39-year-old resident of West Vancouver, said that she and her husband, Donald, a neurologist, began buying chemical-free produce a year ago after being vegetarians for two decades. Said Cameron: “The flavor is wonderful and you don’t get that aftertaste of pesticides.”
Taste and the presence of chlorine are the two factors driving an increasing number of Canadians away from tap water in favor of spring or mineral waters. Last year, the Ontario Bottled Water Association, which represents vendors across the country, hired Decima Re-
search to conduct a survey of public attitudes towards tap and bottled water. Decima polled 600 people in three different parts of Ontario and found that, by margins of about 2 to 1, the participants said that they believed that bottled water was safer, higher in quality, tasted better and contained fewer chemicals and additives. In early 1990, Maclean ’s asked a Mississauga company, Mann Testing Laboratories Ltd., to analyse Toronto tap water, and the firm found only traces of 20 minerals and chemicals. Some, including copper and iron, can be beneficial to humans in small amounts, but others, such as strontium and barium, could be harmful in large quantities. Said Kenneth Roberts, manager of the Ontario ministry of the environment’s drinking-water section: “Bottled water can be better tasting, but the risk to health
from drinking tap water is considered negligible.”
According to Elisabeth Woodworth, executive director of the bottled-water association, sales have continued to grow by 10 per cent a year even during the recession. Total Canadian sales of bottled water increased by 10 per cent to $190 million in 1990, up from $173 million the previous year, she said.
Sunscreen: Canadians are also demonstrating their concerns about environment and personal health through their purchases of sunscreen lotions. Sales figures compiled by A. C. Nielsen Co. of Canada Ltd., a Torontobased market-research firm, show that Canadians have spent $36 million on sunscreens in 1991, up from $26.5 million in 1987. And Canadians are buying stronger sunscreens. Manufacturers assign each product a sunprotection factor ranging from 2 through 45, and the higher the rating, the more protection against the ultraviolet solar radiation that darkens human skin but can also potentially cause skin cancer. McClelland, however, said that any lotion with an SPF of 30 or more blocks out almost all ultraviolet rays. Nielsen figures
show that 47 per cent of the sunscreens Canadians purchased this year had protection factors of 15 or higher, up from 37 per cent two years earlier. Sales of lotions with factors of 15 or less declined by 22 per cent over the same period.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa-based Canadian Dermatology Association is also trying to raise public awareness about the links between suntanning and skin cancer. Vancouver dermatologist Dr. Jason Rivers, director of the association’s skin cancer awareness program, said that he and some of his colleagues set up tents at four different beaches in the lower B.C. mainland last summer. Rivers said that they distributed information and examined about 600 sunbathers for signs of skin cancer. He said that they identified 20 per cent of the
individuals as high risk, and another eight per cent had potentially cancerous lesions. Said Rivers: “People are becoming more aware, but a lot of people are not responding. Go to any beach and there are people frying out there.” While public opinion polls reveal that change is occurring slowly, the growth of one grassroots organization suggests that average citizens are becoming more environmentally active. Two years ago, 11 Vancouver residents formed an organization called the Worldwide Home Environmentalists Network. Cameron, one of the founding members, said that the network now has 5,000 members and small chapters in Australia and Japan. She said that the organization’s 18-point charter encourages environmental change through personal action. Cameron added that if ordinary citizens can be convinced to adopt conservation, recycling, composting and other environmentally sound practices, they can have an enormous impact on the future of the planet. It is clearly an enormous challenge—and for many Canadians, the place to start is at home.
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