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No Intraprovincial Organic Regulations in Canada: what is the impact on the organic sector development?

August 10, 2011

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The Canadian Organic Products Regulations (OPR) were implemented in June 2009 but they do not cover organic products produced and sold within the same province. The OPR only apply to products that are traded on interprovincial and international markets.

So since the last two years, consumers in Canada can buy certified organic products complying with the OPR requirements, or organic products that are not certified because  they are grown and sold without crossing any provincial borders. Quebec is the only province where the “organic” designation is strictly regulated. In British Columbia, the terms “BC Certified Organic” are protected, but the single claim “organic” is not covered under BC voluntary certification system.

What is the impact of not having organic products regulated and certified in intraprovincial markets? Does it reduce consumer confidence in the organic designation, or can it have an impact on the value of the organic premium?

Should intraprovincial claims about organic production be just as verifiable as international claims?

What are the producers of certified organic products experiencing when sharing market space with operators selling organic products that are not certified?

Two years have passed since the implementation of the OPR and the OFC thinks that time has come to assess the impact of the lack of intraprovincial regulation on the Canadian organic sector.

You are invited to post your comment on this issue; you can require your name not to be added when your comment will be posted. Thanks for your participation.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. August 23, 2011 9:28 am

    Another issue which is not mentioned here is that some enterprises are certified only for intraprovincial trade. The difference between these enterprises and ISO 65 certified enterprises covered by the OPR is that the regionally certified operators can and DO use the term CERTIFIED ORGANIC in describing their products. This causes confusion at Farmer’s Markets because Ottawa prohibits the use of that term for ISO 65 certified operators. In British Columbia, this is particularly problematic because for those enterprises who choose not to use an organic logo due to space or cost constraints, their “organic” claim cannot be distinguished from the one which, in BC, does not require certification at all.

    The absence of intraprovincial controls upon the use of the word “organic” is an often heard complaint from our membership. In particular, small coffee importers are able to advertise organic coffee products without any of the controls or costs of those enterprises who have undertaken certification of their products.

    There is very definitely a two-tier system at play right now, which will persist until the use of the word “organic” is fully regulated in all market jurisdictions.

  2. August 23, 2011 4:36 pm

    Yes, there must be intraprovincial controls to make the use of the word “organic”
    FULLY REGULATED in all market jurisdictions. Dr. Iris.

  3. August 24, 2011 9:15 am

    In Ontario we are experiencing farmers dropping certification due to the lack of clarity in intraprovincial trade. They are competing in farmers markets where a farmer can make any claim they wish. The expense of both record keeping and the certification fees make a difference for farmers. When they could be assured of a fair price in the market for this effort, the farmers felt the investment of time and money was worth while. In the past, farmers have been able to recover the costs of third party audits because consumers were willing to reward the practice monetarily. When food is sold as organic at a cheaper price than “real” organic food the organic farmers need to drop prices to stay competitve in certain markets.

    In a marketplace where people can make spurious claims and set pricing for “organic” below the cost of truly organic production, the certifying farmer can be at a disadvantage.

  4. August 24, 2011 11:56 am

    In Alberta we see some farmers at the farmers market putting up organic signs and claiming organic status without being certified because they know that the federal regulation canot be enforced in the province. They are flaunting this in the face of certified organic producers and saying that they don’t have to be certified. If we don’t have intraprovincial certification all the work the organic operators and business have done to educate the consumers about certified organic will be for nothing because to be certified organic will mean nothing. We might as well be all natural producers because the word organic and natural will mean the same which is that they both don’t mean anything. We are also seeing that non certified organic producers are pricing thier product much lower than true organic producers.

    • Sandy Lowndes permalink
      September 3, 2011 2:36 pm

      I agree whole-heartedly!! Sandy

  5. August 24, 2011 6:58 pm

    I am a certif. organic in BC. Because of the current situation with unregulated “organic” I will not be pursuing certification next year until there is a change in the law.

    • Go Organic permalink
      November 8, 2011 6:23 pm

      Yes! I too am Certified Organic in BC and we wont be pursuing next year again either. And I know of a few other certified growers that just dropped status last year. Its a huge money drain on smaller operations amongst other things.

  6. susan moore permalink
    August 24, 2011 8:16 pm

    As a certified organic farmer in B.C. my credibility is undermined by any farmer being able to promote their product as organic. These farmers are making money off the backs of certified organic farmers and are confusing customers. It is hard enough to gain respect as a farmer in today’s society why are we disrespecting the efforts of certified organic farmers this way.

    The customer does not have the time, expertise or cynicism to question individual farmers and visit their farms and inspect their records to assess if their organic claims are true. My customers want honest and open advertising. Advertising needs to be honest in industry, why is farming any different?

    I have worked towards and supported federal regulations and many certified organic farmers have put hundreds of hours, volunteer, into this process. Our payback is getting screwed.


  7. August 28, 2011 8:14 pm

    I agree with all comments listed above. As well as farmer’s markets, these claims are also happening in organic stores who let in “natural”, “free range”, “grass-fed” . . ., often setting prices lower or the same as the certified organic producer who has jumped through the hoops, paid for a third party inspection, incurred the expense of nutritional labeling, only to confuse consumers who think “natural”, “free-range”, etc. products are the same as a certified organic product. As organic producers, we all know that they are not the same and they have no proof or verification to back up their statements. We DEFINITELY need intraprovincial regulations that can be enforced at both farmer’s markets and organic retail locations. These stores are portraying that these so called organic products are the same and making it difficult for the organic producer to compete on the same playing field. If regulations are not enforced soon, the true organic producer will not be able to continue because the costs are becoming too great and lowering prices to compete is not an option.

  8. August 30, 2011 9:45 am

    I agree with all the posts above. In addition, certified organic producers need to be able to use the word “certified”. We have spent 20 years teaching consumers that unless they see the word “certified”, the product may be making false claims. Now the National regulation says that only the word “organic” may be used, but it’s not enforced intraprovincially, we see everyone using the same word, and a total degradation of the entire concept.

    Either require everyone to be certified to make any organic claim at all, regardless of where they sell, or make it legal and mandatory to use the phrase “certified organic” regardless of whether the producer is certified federally or provincially. Then enforce the use of the word “organic” as well as “certified organic” to apply only to certified organic producers.

    The current regulation makes a mockery of a lot of educational work and of the efforts of organic producers, and undermines our markets.

  9. August 31, 2011 5:52 pm

    Our brewery is currently struggling with a number of breweries claiming to be organic. Many of them use a small amount of organic malt, but are not certified or even certifiable. Their product is cheaper than ours, because they do not have the extra expenses of being 100% organic and of certification. Their claims are confusing customers all over BC, who think that everyone who uses the word really is organic. The impact on our sales is considerable. We estimate that we have lost 6 taps , with loss of income of about $50,000.00 last year alone. These are only the accounts which have told us why they have switched to other breweries.

  10. August 31, 2011 5:55 pm

    We run into this all the time. Consumers are often quite confused given all the different ‘regimes’ being thrown at them. There are plenty of ‘just as good as organic’ farms around here.
    We see advertising from non-certified farms who use the term organic in describing their products regularly. One farm is ‘certified naturally grown’ and on their website they actually state that they farm using all the same regulations as certified organic farms even though they quite clearly do not. They grow vegetables and do small amounts of beef and market it this way. No mention on their site that this ‘certification’ is self regulated and because of that in my opinion it does not carry any weight.

    There are also farmers who use the term organic because they sometimes buy organic feed for their animals, or they feed their animals grains that are supposedly not fertilized or sprayed. Then we have consumers asking us why our meat is more expensive than the other ‘organic’ farmer down the road. Again, if the farmer says it’s organic and they are local most people don’t question the truth of their advertising.

    We don’t think the powers that be really care, there is no real effort to make the word mean something as they have done in the US. We will likely continue to see even more organic produce and meats in Canada coming from outside of the country because of this. How are we expected to compete when we are competing on and uneven playing field?

    Luckily organic farmers are a stubborn bunch and will probably stick with it anyway!
    Sure would be nice if the government took our food quality, animal husbandry standards and the environment as seriously as we do though.

    I often tell customers that just because someone knows how to use a calculator it does not make them a CGA, there is a reason we have titles and certifications around – it lets you know exactly what you are paying for and how the food or animal was raised.

  11. August 31, 2011 5:56 pm

    I am very concerned about the “non-use” of the word certified. I see a lot of other farmers use the word “Organic” even though they are not certified; I also see many using words “natural” and presently there is so much confusion.
    We were asked not to use the word “certified” and I have taken it off many labels. However, many customers are now questioning whether my products are now no longer “certified.” They make comments like: “I won’t buy it if it does not say “certified organic” or can you prove it is “certified.” We have had to show our 8×11 certificate hanging on the side of the tent more in the past month than ever before. The labels on our hazelnut butter has also been changed…. the main label no longer says “Certified Organic” … instead there is a small label attached to the back of the jar with the label and number of the certifying body…… But what does the word “PACS” mean to most people….. absolutely nothing!
    Yes, I have had LOST SALES because the words “Certified Organic” have been replaced with just the word “Organic.”
    I also have actually considered dropping my organic status and simply using “naturally grown” on my products. It would save my operation about $600-$700 per year in fees; I don’t need to separate conventional products from the certified organic… I don’t need to wash in between and I don’t need to keep so many records. So far growers using words natural seem to have all the advantages of the old “certified organic” and they have no extra costs.
    I ask that we go to the original standards of using the word “certified” in our products in Canada. It could be a variation of phrases such as: “BC Certified Organic” ( if it is a BC certifing body like BCARA); “Canada Certified Organic” (like those using PACS) or just the old “Certified Organic.”

  12. August 31, 2011 5:57 pm

    Regulating the word ‘organic’ in BC is extremely important. I believe there should not be the ability to grandfather the use of the term, because it is often a health issue for organic consumers, and being
    misled by improper use of the word is extremely frustrating. For instance, the ‘Organic Cafe’ in Vancouver serves campbell’s soup and Kraft cheese sandwiches. Talk about false advertising!

    As an organic winery, we spend huge amounts of time and effort getting things right without any chemicals. Last year we even lost our entire crop because of an infection that we couldn’t cure organically during the season, yet we decided to let the crop fail rather than use chemicals to fix it and lose our certification. Meanwhile many other wineries in the Okanagan make claims, both verbal and written, telling people that they are organic, or that they use organic methods. This is extremely frustrating, as one look at the brown grass underneath the vines makes it obvious that herbicides are being used. We do our best to educate the public, but ultimately we are losing the fight. When I go out to sell wine in Vancouver, retailers often ask me ‘Why do you bother certifying? Aren’t all Okanagan wineries organic?’ and indeed, they stock brands that I know to use harsh chemicals on their shelves with a tag marking it as organic, and we end up actually losing credibility with some people because we are certified.

    The loose use of the word is extremely frustrating, and dangerous for the legitimate organic industry, as it will eventually render the word meaningless in the minds of consumers.

  13. August 31, 2011 5:58 pm

    Farmers who are not certified have been riding on the backs of certified growers for as long as we can remember. Most farmers markets will not allow themselves to get involved in the politics of policing who is truly organic and who isn’t. I have been on the board of our local market for many years and am routinely shut down for suggesting it. I have written on this subject and spoken publicly more times than I care to count. I would hazard to guess that most of the non certified growers have EVER read or understand the standards manuals. Just the other day a local farmer asked me questions about pest and weed controls. He didn’t know about any of the things I told him and he has been farming for 50 + years! I listen to customers continuously asking these vendors if they are organic and they routinely answer that they don’t use sprays. What the “heck” does that mean? I have overheard some farmers say that if the customers want me to be organic then I tell them I am. Customers REALLY don’t understand the difference between my being certified and the farmer next to me using no sprays. Customers need to be given a clear indication of what is organic and what is not. It is so clearly time that we are all on the same page, provincially. It makes no sense to have a national standard that is enforced and a provincial one that isn’t. Local, certified growers deserve and have worked hard to keep the integrity of certified organic going. We ARE the front line of organics to the public. At Farmers markets and farm gate sales we are constantly addressing customer queries and concerns as to what is what. I want the use of the word ORGANIC ( and all its’ derivatives) to belong to certified growers only, period. Let the rest of them come up with their own explanation.

  14. September 22, 2011 4:19 pm

    The word organic now is used everywhere. We have organic everything, from shampoo to bedding. The word has been taken out of organic farming and placed into the general vocabulary. We need to go back to the words certified organic and then this will mean something to the consumer. We then can then show the difference between non certified farmers and real organic farmers. We have just been told by CFIA that we can’t use Certified Organic on our egg labels and have to go with the very generic “organic” on our egg labels. We spent decades using the words Certified Organic and educating the public to look for Certified Organic on the label to get a truly organic product., but now the water is getting very muddy. We need to bring back the words Certified Organic to reclaim the word organic.

    • October 7, 2011 7:55 am

      Yes Ron! We believe also that we need to be able to use the word “certified”. Then it actually means something and can be proven with our certification certificates. Why CFIA would require us to remove “certified” is something we don’t understand. When we talk to people we still make sure to tell them that our products are “certified” and educate them on the fact that they should be asking anyone making “organic” claims to produce their certification.

  15. BC Operator permalink
    November 8, 2011 8:29 am

    I am a small scale farming with a 100% organic philosophy, and adhering to the organic certification standards in B.C. (PACS). In other words, I am doing all I can to be “certifiable”. But for my sales volume I can not justify either the time or the expense of formal certification. Regardless, what I produce is fully as organic as anything that is certified organic. The word “organic” has been adopted to describe the agricultural method to which I am committed, and I believe I should be allowed to use the word “organic” to describe my agricultural methods. I do understand that use of the word “organic” is much abused.

    In my case, what is in dispute is not whether my produce is organic, but how that claim is verified. In my opinion the solution to this problem is not to regulate use of the word “organic”. The regulation should focus on the verification side of the issue – all certified organic producers in Canada, both inter- and intraprovincially, should use the term “certified organic”. The Canada Organic Regime got it wrong right from the beginning and has created this problem for us.

  16. a farmer on the looseing end of the stick permalink
    November 18, 2011 9:00 pm

    I think that if you are not going to allow the use of Certified organic then you have to remove and dis allow organic naturally grown bio organic bio deserve ect from the market place as has been said above it is being used every were . To think that CFIA will not allow Certified organic when there is proof and back up to the claim is beyond me maybe its time to not bother with the cost and paper work that goes with being Certified Organic if Government doesn’t care and is so blind not to see what is obvious in the market and the need to protect consumers and real organic farmers then its time to with draw certification This issue needs to be resolved QUICKLY its gone on long enough

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