Organic standards in Canada are not very different from the organic standards used in the United States. In fact, the United States has a reciprocal relationship with its neighbors to the north since so much food crosses the border.
Overview of Organic Standards in Canada
The Canadian government put its current organic standards in place in December of 2006. These rules, called the Organic Production System Standard, cover all aspects of the food production process, from planting to packaging. This comprehensive list of standards in available online, as well as the list of substances organic farmers are permitted to use.
To abbreviate, these standards are designed to accomplish the following:
- Protect the soil and decrease the impact of farming on the environment
- Maintain biological diversity in both plants and animals
- Use recycled and sustainable materials as much as possible
- Ensure livestock are raised in a humane manor according to natural behaviors
- Preserve the organic nature of foods without adding inorganic ingredients
- Help retain localized and family owned farms
There are numerous organizations that provide inspection services to certify organic farms. All of these organizations are affiliated with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Organic Farming Standards in Canada
Of course, organic standards all stem from the overall production of the food product. Organic production of food in Canada is highly regulated, with the standards being plainly laid out in the Canadian Organic Standards document. This is a two-part document that deals with the general principles and permitted substances that fall within the confines of organic certification in Canada. Among the most important of these standards is:
Farms seeking organic certification must take steps to ensure that their crops are traceable from seed to store. This includes keeping accurate records on the origin of the seeds, how they were grown, how they were harvested, and how they were prepared for storage or transport. This helps to ensure that organic products are not going to comingle with non-organic products.
In Canada, farmers are required to have an eight meter buffer zone between their organic crops and any non-organic area or area of unknown organic distinction. The buffer can be a windbreak, an artificial structure, or a tall, semi-permanent vegetative barrier like trees. This helps keep pollen from GM crops, pesticides, and herbicides from contaminating organic crops.
Genetically Modified Organisms
To be organically certified in Canada, crops cannot be genetically modified. Genetically modified organisms are patented plant species whose genetics are the property of the company that created them. These plants are engineered to be resistant to proprietary pesticides or, as with Bt-Corn, produce their own pesticides.
Pesticides and Herbicides
Synthetic pesticides and herbicides are not permitted for use with organic farming in Canada. Any pesticides used in organic farming need to be certified organic by the Canadian Organic Standards.
Animals on organic farms need to be cared for in a very specific way, with the highest regard placed on their comfort and humane treatment. Hens cannot be kept in battery cages, all animals are given large minimum space requirements, and all animals are required to have access to roam freely outdoors for at least some of the day.
How These Standards Affect Consumers
Consumers will come in contact with organic standards in Canada directly when they look at product labels. U.S. residents will recognize the Canadian labeling standards as they are almost identical to USDA Organic labeling guidelines.
Organic Label and Logo
Products with the word organic or a similar term on their most prominent display panel have to contain 95% certified organic ingredients. They must come from farms or other sources that are officially certified organic in compliance with national standards. Only products that meet this standard can carry the "Canada Organic" logo.
High Majority Organic Ingredients
Products that have 70% to 94% organic ingredients cannot feature the organic term by itself nor have the logo on their labels. The labels must specify the actual percentage of organic derived products the product contains specifically. For example, a label can say "contains 75% organic ingredients" in a prominent place.
Low Majority or Minority Organic Ingredients
If a product has 70% organic ingredients or less, the mention of organic ingredients has to be limited to the ingredients panel only. The term organic can be used to modify ingredients that are certified organic. For example, the label could say "organic peas" in the list. The product cannot be marketed as a certified organic item.
Note that organic products can contain salt and water that are not certified organic. This is because no organic certification is available for these two ingredients as they are not farmed products.
Enforcing Organic Standards
The Canadian government takes its organic standards very seriously as it wants the country to stay competitive in international trade markets. Farmers and manufacturers face strict penalties for violating labeling laws, as this could hurt the industry's integrity. This necessitates ongoing enforcement of organic standards.
After a producer receives its initial organic certification, it is re-evaluated every year to ensure continued compliance. Inspection procedures can include unannounced visits, which helps to keep workers vigilant in applying the required standards at all levels.
If an inspector finds a violation, he will file an official complaint. The producer must correct all areas in a timely manner or lose its ability to market itself as certified organic. If producers have their organic certification revoked or suspended, they are listed on the official Canadian government organic standards website.
Staying Competitive in a Worldwide Economy
The Canadian government is not unaware of the explosion of interest in organic foods around the world. In order to stay viable in this quickly growing industry, the Canadians have adopted some very rigid standards to ensure the purity of organic foods produced within the country. There are strict standards and these standards are regulated to a degree that provides for real, actionable enforcement to maintain that standard.