Cultivating a level playing field

Ontario could take notes from lessons learned through other provinces’ organic regulations

by Kate Ayers

The Ontario government is reviewing the Organic Products Act, which would ensure that products for sale within the province could not be labelled or marketed as “organic” unless they are certified as such in conformity with the act. As the Ontario discussions continue, Better Farming provides an overview of the five provinces in Canada which have provincial organic regulations: British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec.

British Columbia
Since 1993, British Columbia’s had a voluntary system of accreditation and certification for organic products sold within the province under the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (COABC). The province uses the B.C. Organic Check brand on its organic products.

However, since 2009, the Canadian Organic Standards requires that products crossing provincial borders be certified to federal standards. Due to the increasing incidence of uncertified operators making organic claims, the COABC and the organic sector wanted to clarify these claims. So, the British Columbia government combined three bills related to food and ag claims into the B.C. Food and Agricultural Products Classification Act. This new regulation, coming into effect in 2018, requires all products labelled as organic to be certified to either federal or provincial standards. The act will be enforced by the COABC.

In 2006, Quebec became the first province to enact and regulate its own mandatory provincial organics standard. In 2011, Quebec created its own provincial, organic brand, BIO Quebec. The province phased out this brand in 2017 and now promotes Alimentation Quebec Bio. The new brand is Quebec’s equivalent of Foodland Ontario Organic.

In 2012, Quebec discontinued its provincial standard and instead implemented the national standard. The province took this approach in response to the creation of the Canadian Organic Standards. Conseils des Appelations et Termes Valorisants (CARTV) is an arms-length agency that regulates value-added claims and designations, and that oversees the accreditation of third-party certification bodies.

Manitoba’s organic regulations came to fruition in 2013, after seven years of deliberations. The province used a phase-in approach to allow producers and business operators to learn about the changes in the organic sector. The government has substantial authority, in terms of the powers of inspection and the imposition of penalties, in cases of suspected labelling fraud.

“I feel that the regulations help with (labelling) clarification,” says Tiffany Priestley, general manager of the Organic Producers Association of Manitoba.

“Buyers know that each of these producers have to go through a certification body, have to (abide by) the standards set out by the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), and everything has to be checked and balanced in order to receive that certificate and be considered organic.”

New Brunswick
The New Brunswick Organic Grade Regulation came into effect in 2014.

“The organic grade is established as the grade for a farm product or a multi-ingredient product that is produced or processed by a person who has a valid organic certification for the product from a certification body,” according to the New Brunswick Natural Products Act.

The Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) and provincial government provided the sector with comprehensive resources to ensure adequate understanding and compliance by consumers and producers. The province’s Agriculture By Choice Program (which runs from 2013 to 2018) subsidizes organic certification up to 70 per cent, up to a maximum of $500 per operator over three years. As of 2015, only beginning farmers wanting to gain organic certification are eligible for this support.

Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia followed in New Brunswick’s steps, enacting the Organic Grade Regulations in 2015. The province helps farmers transition by subsidizing up to two years of pre-certification by 70 per cent, up to $500. The Department of Environment is responsible for enforcement of the regulations.

farmers market vegetables

    Photo credit: EricFerguson/E+ photo

For more information see Organic regulation in Canadian provinces, 2016. BF

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