Canadian Organic Standards
by Margie Loo
In Prince Edward Island and across the country, this is an exciting time in the organic community. For the past decade, organic farmers and processors from across the country, in conjunction with the Canadian Standards Council and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), have been developing a national organic standard. In December 2006, the National Standard of Canada was enshrined into law, however the Canadian organic sector was granted two years to transition into the new standard before regulations become enforced in Decem ber 2008. W hat this means for consumers is that for the first time in Canada, all products
labelled as certified organic will have to meet the national standard regardless of what certification body inspects them. Certification bodies can still exceed that standard but they have to ensure that their members meet it as a minimum.
The basic principle of organic production is outlined in the introduction to the National Standard of Canada. “Organic agriculture is a holistic system of production designed to optimize the productivity, and fitness of diverse communities within the agroecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock, and people. The principal goal of organic agriculture is to develop productive enterprises that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment.” The standard includes the following three basic criteria: organic production has to m eet the regulated standards with regard to allowable inputs and land use practices; producers must receive an annual independent third party inspection; and an audit trail is kept for all production activity, which can be used to trace products back to the field they grew in. In order to ensure that all organic certification bodies are meeting the standard they in turn also must be inspected and audited by oversight organizations that will provide accreditation in order for the CFIA to recognise them as organic. The CFIA will oversee this process to ensure that organic growers and their certification bodies are following the standards. The CFIA will also be responsible for ensuring that any organic food coming from outside the country meets the Canadian standard. This will provide consumers with more consistency in the market place, since every certification body is slightly different and without regulation there has not been adequate oversight.
There will be some changes that consumers will notice. The biggest one is that our only regional certification body—Maritime Certified Organic Growers Cooperative (MCOG)—will be replaced by a new accredited certification body Atlantic Certified Organic Cooperative (ACO). ACO is taking over certification for both MCOG and Nova Scotia Organic Growers Association (NSOGA) and will provide certification services for Newfoundland and Labrador farmers as well.
There is a number of other countries and regions of the world that have mandatory organic standards including the United States, Europe and Japan. The standards vary slightly but all uphold the same fundamental principles. In order for Canadian producers to enter the world markets there has been international pressure to provide more oversight of certification bodies so that consumers in other countries can be assured of the quality of Canadian imports. At the same time, having a legislated and enforced national standard will also allow Canadian border officials to scrutinize food being imported into our country.
Mandatory and enforced national organic standards are good for consumers and farmers alike. Many of the mainstays of organic agriculture, such as mandatory crop rotations and bans on the use of GMOs, synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pest controls, give consumers greater certainty as to both the nutritional and environmental benefits of organic food. In addition, the standard showcases the differences between organic and industrial agricultural systems.
The standard requires more than the absence of harmful chemicals; “soil fertility is maintained and enhanced by promoting optimal biological activity within the soil and conservation of soil resources. Crop selection and rotation are important for managing nutrient cycling, recycling of plant and animal residues, water management, augmentation of beneficial insects to encourage a balanced predator-prey relationship, and the promotion of biological diversity and ecologically based pest management.” (Organic Production Systems Introduction)
If you would like to take a look at the standard you can find it at:
- http://www.oacc.info/Standards/stds_w elcome.asp. There is also a number of local, regional, and national organizations to help consum ers navigate the organic food world. You can find many more links by checking out the following websites:
- PEI Certified Organic Producers Co- op www.organicpei.com. – Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network www.acornorganic.org.