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No “Certified Organic” claim for products certified under the Organic Products Regulations in Canada: how does it impact the market?

October 31, 2011

Pour la version française, cliquez ici

On the Canada Organic Office website, the directive is very clear:

“As all organic products, under the Canada Organic Regime, must be certified by a Canadian Food Inspection Agency accredited certification body, products bearing the claim “certified organic” are considered misleading. Having only some products labelled “certified organic”, while others aren’t, may mislead consumers into believing that products not bearing this claim are not certified. The statement “Certified by” immediately followed by the name of the certification body is acceptable as it denotes who has certified the product.”

So, when an organic product complies with the OPR, it can only be labelled as “organic”. But as the intraprovincial market is not regulated under the OPR, many consumers are looking for the phrase “Certified Organic” as a way to make sure that the local product that they buy is really organic. It helps them distinguishing the real “certified organic” product from the “organic” one that local farmers can label as organic without any certification.

How are operators coping with this labelling issue? Are the different rules applying to interprovincial and intraprovinal markets confusing consumers who look primarily for the phrase “certified organic” to help them make their purchasing decisions? Does that create an unfair advantage to imports which continue to use “certified organic” all over their packaging?

You are invited to post your comment on this issue! Thanks for your participation!

37 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2011 2:34 pm

    Posted by pierre Gattuso on October 31, 2011 at 2:10 pm edit

    i believe that either one should be acceptable if truly certified as opposed to
    products which misleadingly use the organic qualification without being organic as such.
    aslong as the certifier is indicated for the benifit of the consumer.


  2. gay viet permalink
    October 31, 2011 2:47 pm

    Consumers have been paying for products making all sorts of misleading claims for a long time now. I support the regulations that are trying to control the labelling of these products. Rather than weakening the Federal regulations the Organic Federation of Canada should be lobbying the Provinces to bring their labelling requirements up to the same level.

  3. October 31, 2011 4:24 pm

    There will be an adjustment period for industry and consumers along with education on the issues. Industry had been differentiating themselves from false claims by stating ‘certified’, meaning third party audit rather than an independent claims of growing natural product. Consumers could be most confused with this change.

  4. Cathleen Kneen permalink
    November 1, 2011 8:31 am

    I have been working for years to persuade people to look for “certified organic” with the name of the certifying body, because “organic” means nothing. Why not change the language of the regulation to allow “Certified Organic by [insert name of independent certifying body]”? This would solve the problem.

    • November 8, 2011 12:23 pm

      The statement ( certified organic by PACS, or byany other certifying body) is permitted; only the statement “certified organic” without the name of the certifying body following the statement is prohibited, as it may imply that you are certifying the product.

  5. Dwight Brown permalink
    November 1, 2011 9:53 am

    I was told during an organic audit that the enterprise had 22 competitors claiming organic status…..all of which were false. I think the provinces should enact legislation making the word “organic” mandatory. If it is used, the certifier must be identified. All organic enterprises would then be on the same level.

  6. November 1, 2011 9:59 am

    Certification of their organic claim is what differentiates members of the organic sector from the pretenders but those operators certified to COR are prohibited from identifying this fact on their product labelling. This inequality doesn’t only affect them in retail environments (grocery stores), where they are competing with NOP (and other) certified products, it affects them at Farmer’s markets where regionally/provincially certified operators proclaim the certified organic status of their goods. When a regionally certified operator advertises “Certified Organic carrots” and his COR certified neighbour located in the stall next to him is required to say “Organic carrots”, consumers are going to wonder about the difference. Since certification is the desired status, since it is being dearly paid for, and since it is a factual statement of truth, one wonders how it can be deemed to be misleading to the public. If any statement is to be mandated, CERTIFIED ORGANIC should be it.

  7. November 2, 2011 3:15 pm

    I totally agree with Donna. At our Farmers Market I was recently next to a vendor calling his eggs “Uncertified Organic” – now what does THAT mean??

    “Certified Organic” has come to mean something and needs to be available to anyone complying with a bona fide program.


    • Marlene permalink
      November 7, 2011 11:52 pm

      I agree. My customers are confused. They do not see the word Certified on our products and think we are no longer “certifiedOrganic” No one regulates the all natural products that hint at feeding organicly grown and most people think because it says organic it is. The “certified Organic” backed up by the certifing org. was one way to identiy the difference.

  8. kris chand permalink
    November 2, 2011 5:45 pm

    We have lost 25%-30% of our sales at the local Farmers Market because two new vendors have started to sell “organic” produce this year. Consumers are not well informed to make the distinction. Farmers Market is unable to enforce any rules because BC has no regulation in place. In my view,two major things actions need to taken:

    1. Federal Govt needs to spend the $ to educate consumer on the new regulations.
    2. Provinces need to enact regulations to help Farmers Markets and consumers to have legal frame work to enforce the rules.

  9. November 2, 2011 5:54 pm

    We need certified organic to distinguish us from folks who say they are organic but are not certified. Until they can no longer make that claim, we need the “certified” as part of our label.
    Mary Alice Johnson

  10. November 4, 2011 2:17 pm

    The organic sector spent so many years (decades?) educating Canadian consumers, and building confidence around certified organic products. We eventually built a strong following for these products, and people knew to look for the “Certified Organic” label to know they were getting the real thing. The move to abandon this phrase and go to simply “organic” has created confusion in the marketplace, and because intraprovincially the word “organic” isn’t regulated, the problem has been compounded, and customer confusion reigns and confidence in the organic designation is negatively impacted. I’ve seen this by talking with our customers. I would like to see all organic goods labelled as “certified organic” once again.

  11. November 6, 2011 2:13 pm

    I wanted to add my voice as a non-certified organic grower. I sell through a farmers’ market, a trial CSA, and farm gate and I sell my vegetables as organic. Yes, there are businesses out there selling their produce as “organic” while spraying roundup, but there are also small-scale truly organic farmers for whom the current certification regime just does not work for whatever reason (leased land, too small, etc). I use practices that nearly anyone would agree are organic, and I believe I have the right to say my produce is grown organically. I’m conscious of the fraudsters out there, and I try to compensate by building customer trust and communication. I agree that there is a need for customer education, but not just on regulations; they also need to know about growing practices so they can ask questions that will help them see through the not-really-organic sellers. When customers ask if I’m organic, I usually say “Yes, but not certified,” and try to discuss my soil fertility, weed control, and pest management practices with them. Often they glaze over or change the subject about one and a half sentences in. Since the term “organic” describes my practices in one precise word, I use it, and I don’t think certification bodies should have a monopoly on the term. Hence the importance of the phrase “certified organic”: a certified grower should be able to use either “organic” or “certified organic” whereas a grower like me can’t use the latter. I don’t understand why COR says that certified growers can’t use the term “certified organic” to differentiate. I’m not too familiar with the political structure behind it all, but it seems to me that COR might risk losing relevancy to provincial certification bodies through this strange policy.

  12. Joyce Kelly permalink
    November 7, 2011 10:48 am

    This is a big issue for producers selling in farmers markets since there is a lot of competition. It is very important to be allowed to identify Certified Organic from all the people who claim to be organic. I believe that a great number of producers will no longer certify if the wording is changed because there will simply be no advantage and it costs time and money to be certified.
    Joyce Kelly, Certified Organic producer from PEI

  13. Kim M permalink
    November 7, 2011 11:30 am

    I agree with those who are describing this move as a step backwards. It takes a lot of time and effort for a branding designation such as ‘certified organic’ to gain meaning in the mind of the average consumer, and changing tracks so soon is a sure way to encourage mistrust of all those using some form of organic labeling. Our local growers’ society has been working for almost a year on educational materials to help explain organic labeling, especially complicated with the lack of territorial regulation. Now do we have to start from scratch?

  14. November 7, 2011 12:37 pm

    We get around it by saying “ORGANIC” and “CERTIFIED BY” on our labels … there are so many logos and buzzwords floating around out there, even I’m confused and I’m a certified organic farmer. Keep it simple and consistent, and get the message out to consumers about COR.

  15. November 7, 2011 1:12 pm

    Numerous issues with the change and dropping “certified” from the regs. However, it is more about having new set of protocol(s) we now have to educate the consumer on, yet again! Further, any regulations, labeling standard or protocols I as a producer and processor have to follow, is absolutely meaningless if the retailer is not forced to follow the same…and be policed the same.

  16. Karl Lilgert permalink
    November 7, 2011 5:50 pm

    As a, “Certified Organic” producer I feel that the whole issue of labelling, “Organic” is absolutely confusing to my self and the consumer. I am surrounded by producers labelling there products as organic. They may or may not be practising organic procedures, but are not certified. This is not only confusing to the consumer but unfair for all the producers who must live, work, and share the same community. How can a Certified Organic farmer not feel betrayed by Ottawa. What is the real problem in using, “Certified Organic”? This would absolutely clear up any confusion by everyone, and make for a harmonious community.

  17. Mary Alice Johnson permalink
    November 7, 2011 7:12 pm

    Disallowing “certified organic” will hurt my business.
    Mary Alice Johnson

  18. Heidi Marion permalink
    November 7, 2011 7:15 pm

    I like the idea of just having bona fide organic anything being called simply organic…. As long as those who are not (certified) organic are disallowed from using the word organic. Will my local CFIA respond to reports of invalid organic claims?
    Ie if it’s not enforced, then “certified organic” will be the only way we can differentiate ourselves from non-certified organic produce etc. at it will continue to be used.

  19. Linda P permalink
    November 7, 2011 8:30 pm

    As a new (certified) Organic grower, I strongly agree with those who think that we should be able to use “Certified Organic” for our products. In my experience, most consumers have no idea what the difference is between “Certified” or “not certified” and they rarely notice whether there’s a reference to “Certified by…” or not. They just assume it’s all the same thing. Also, the word “Organic” is so widely used now that I can’t see how people can be prevented from using it, law or not. Therefore, I believe that the best chance of actually educating the consumer about the difference is to be able to put the word “Certified” alongside Organic, thereby helping to initiate dialogue about certification and its meaning.

  20. Owen Broad permalink
    November 7, 2011 11:18 pm

    The reason that a farm goes through the procedure of the paperwork, Verification Officer inspection, research and paying for it all is to become “Certified Organic”. To not be able to say that you are certified makes no sense and is very difficult to differentiate your produce from someone who does not certify.
    Customers appreciate the fact that we go through the process and it gives more confidence to them.

  21. Heather permalink
    November 8, 2011 11:41 am

    I am a very small certified organic grower – we pay the hefty fees, do the endless paperwork, have the inspections each year and I am proud to say we are ‘certified organic’. All around me I see farmers claiming they are organic. They use round up or other herbicides and cheap chemical fertilizers. To take away the word ‘certified’ is insane. Why should we bother with all the hassle of being certified if we are just lumped in with the others who are able to say ‘organic’ and charge less as they don’t have the fees to cover each year. Being ‘certified’ is what consumers should be trained to look for on labels and at markets.

  22. November 8, 2011 12:33 pm

    As I replied on an earlier blog The statement ( certified organic by PACS ) or any other certifying body is permitted only the statement ( certified organic ) without the name of the certifying body following the statement is prohibited as it may imply that you are certifying the product and are better than another person.

  23. November 8, 2011 1:20 pm

    We have sold our eggs for 13 years as certified organic but during our last CFIA egg grading station inspection we have been told that we can’t use the word “certified” on our labels. Farmers that don’t have a grading station use the wording “certified organic” when they sell thier organic eggs. We are going to be causing a great amount of confusion with the consumer if we don’t stick with one or the other. My vote is for certified organic. We have spent years educating the consumer to look for the certification body or the words certified organic. The word organic is used every where, from an organic shampoo experience to the phase “organic growth”. One of the places that I really see the word organic being used is in compost and organic fertilizers. These products are not certified organic and don’t have certification from any organic certifiers. Some have certificats from other organizations on thier bags and it appears that they are really trying to ride on the coatails of the organic industry. We need to address this issue asap and stop the confusion and regain control of the word organic by using certified organic. As I say “natural means nothing ,certified organic means everything”.

    • November 8, 2011 7:50 pm

      Ron is right on about the confusion this creates between food and non-food products and I can’t see an easy solution to stop non food products being labelled organic without any due diligence.

  24. November 8, 2011 3:39 pm

    We want the labels to be true certified organic. Certifier was identified on the labels. Going backwards to organic, creates confusion and costly reprinting of labels that were correct.

  25. November 8, 2011 7:47 pm

    I understand the rationale behind this regulation but it seems a little pedantic. We have just changed our labels to read “certified organic by OCIA” in large type and get the same benefit as saying “certified organic” on it’s own. In fact, I find including the certifier actually makes the product label more credible. We all need to ensure that we are using the COR mark in our products and educate consumers to look for the logo to identify certified organic products on the shelf.

  26. Jeff Payne permalink
    November 9, 2011 10:25 am

    The exclusion of the word CERTIFIED before organic removes all market differentiation between those that believe in and live the ‘organic’ life and those that choose easy profits over the health of the planet and its occupants.
    Organic alone refers to any vegetable or animal matter that contains organs. Organic alone does not specifically refer to the practice of growing those animals in an ethical and holistic manner and therefore anyone can legally and rightfully use the word organic while at the same time using man made chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides daily on their farm or factory operation.
    It is essential that the word CERTIFIED be used in conjunction with organic in a controlled manner by those that are willing to become CERTIFIED by accredited certifying bodies.
    The biggest part of this issue remains the education of the general public as to the importance of the word CERTIFIED and the processes that are guaranteed behind that label.

  27. Joanne J Johnson permalink
    November 9, 2011 4:13 pm

    At the moment, it seems like a labelling issue. I am looking at three products produced or sold in Canada and they are all different. A well known organic dairy uses Certified Organic on its label and the label also states who the certifier is but no Canada Organic logo is displayed. Another organic dairy displays the Canada Organic logo, but does not say Certified Organic, just certified by—–The third label does not use certified organic either but uses the Canada Organic label and the BC checkmark, Also, if it is a processed product and lists ingredients, are they to be listed as Certified Organic?

    We are in a double bind here in the Yukon. If a farm has been designated Low Risk, it cannot use the Canada Organic logo, and also, cannot, apparently use the words Certified Organic. How are we then able to educate the public about what (certified) organic is? and how are we to distinguish ourselves from those calling themselves “organic” as in all of us are engaged intra-provincial trade.

  28. Sharyn permalink
    November 9, 2011 8:29 pm

    We need to keep the word ‘certified’ in our labeling as it distinguishes us from the non-certified. It is all about education as many people we come across are very unclear what is the difference between certified and organic We have worked hard, pay fees, have yearly inspections to become certified. If the word is removed, labels, business cards etc. will be a cost we will have to bare. Also what is the incentive to still be ‘certified’ if we are classed like others who do not follow all the rules we must?

  29. Mike permalink
    November 11, 2011 12:09 pm

    It would be a very backwards step to remove the word certified from certified organic products. Not only would it further confuse the customer, be unfar to the genuine certified organic farmer and render and allow the word organic to continue to be over used and unenforceable as the terms “natural” and “green”. If Canada cannot currently enforce and has no real clear regulations to audit and regulate the use of these terms, how will the removal for the term Certified improve veracity of claims of being organic at the local, regional, provincial, national or international levels.
    Keep the word certified organic by…. and continue to support the work of provincial and regional certifying bodies.

  30. November 23, 2011 8:14 pm

    The word “organic” has been part of the English language for a long time, and has had several definitions, depending on the context in which it is used
    The organic agricultural sector decided to not only use that word to distinguish its products based on production methods – they also gave it yet another definition!

    Now it wants to usurp that word for itself, in effect prohibiting anyone else from using it, unless they are “certified organic”. But for some reason they don’t want to use the term “certified” in conjunction with the word “organic”. This makes no sense whatsoever. Why not use the term “certified organic” and be done with it?

    I know this is something to do with the Canadian standard or legislation – that’s what needs to be changed. We cannot expect 100s of millions of people to give up a perfectly good word because someone wants it all for themselves in some context that is so convoluted that it requires a multi-page document to explain what it means.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am fully in support of organic practices and certification, but we’ve also got to be reasonable. We cannot distinguish ourselves at somebody else’s expense. It looks like a marketing nightmare – designed to fail because ordinary people are simply going to ignore it. At best this will always be a point of contention. At worst it will create resentment and ill will. Who needs it!

    The silly thing is – the solution is so simple: “certified organic”.

    • November 30, 2011 1:18 pm

      CERTIFIED ORGANIC! is organic product that has been verified as organic by application, verification and scrutiny. As the word organic is not legislated and provincial governments are reluctant to legislate it, saying ORGANIC on a product does not work for producers or consumers.

      The Canada Organic Office states on its website
      “”products bearing the claim “certified organic” are considered misleading.””
      How is it misleading??

      Consumers have been trained for 20 + years to look for CERTIFIED ORGANIC to ensure that the product they are purchasing is in fact in a certification program.

      Internationally CERTIFIED ORGANIC is the term of preference. But in Canada we can no longer say CERTIFIED ORGANIC if certified under an agency that is accredited under the Canadian Organic Regime.

      Since removing the word certified from my labels I have had many of my customers question my certification and they walk over to another farmers market stall (one who is certified provincially not nationally) or they go to a non certified “organic” producer who is selling cheaper than I am due to the fact they do not have the additional expenses of certification I have lost my marketing advantage. Consumers do not want to listen to the “politics” of labeling. Comment I get are “either you are CERTIFIED ORGANIC or you are ORGANIC, if you do not label as CERTIFIED ORGANIC I must assume you are only growing in accordance to the standards and not necessarily certified.”

      Non certified farmers are using terms like grown in accordance with Canada Organic Regime standards. This is a claim that they can make without certification or the bookkeeping or expenses that are associated with certification.

      Please refer to the Organic Trade Association page:

      Is there an official definition of “organic”?
      The following excerpt is from the definition of “organic” that the National Organic Standards Board adopted in April 1995: “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”

      What does “Certified Organic” mean?
      “Certified Organic” means the item has been grown according to strict uniform standards that are verified by independent state or private organizations. Certification includes inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping, and periodic testing of soil and water to ensure that growers and handlers are meeting the standards which have been set.


  31. February 5, 2012 7:51 pm

    As a Certified Organic Farmer I find it totally disrespectful that I am not allowed to used the phrase Certified Organic on product grown on our farm.

    Canadian, “organic” product sits on the store shelf next to the imported “certified organic” product. Canadian consumers have been taught to purchase “certified organic” product for the past fifteen or more years I am concerned about our domestic market.

    Example lettuce mix from USA states:

    Certified Organic Mixed Greens
    certified by ~~~~~~~~~~
    Product of USA

    Canadian product states:

    Organic Mixed Greens
    certified by ~~~~~~~~~
    Product of Canada

    Which one will the consumer pick up
    75% of consumers I have spoken to have said they will choose the “Certified Organic” USA product as they want to be assure the product they are purchasing is “really” organic. Most look at the large print CERTIFIED ORGANIC and discount the word ORGANIC

    Please allow Canadians to label according to the world standard. CERTIFIED ORGANIC is the accepted term WORLD WIDE, Bring Canada up to the World Standard in Labelling

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