A lack of provincial regulations governing organic food may be leading to consumers being confused or, worse, misled, suggests a report released this week.
The Canadian Organic Trade Association (COTA), a membership-based association for the organic sector in Canada, strongly says dedicated organic legislation and regulations are past due in Ontario.
Under guidelines established by Canadian Organic Growers, organic is described as the only type of agriculture that puts nature first. Certified producers follow seven principles: agriculture must protect the environment, maintain long-term soil fertility and biological diversity within the system, recycle both materials and resource to the greatest extent possible, provide care that promotes health and behavioural needs of livestock, maintain the organic integrity of products at all stages of production and rely on renewable resources, among other things.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs only products produced and sold using the federal organic logo are regulated. All others are not. This could potentially lead to consumers being misled by the use of the term “organic” to describe foods not certified, says the COTA report.
Currently only five provinces – BC, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – have their own regulations.
Overall, Quebec leads the country on having the strongest government support for their organic sector, the study notes. Provincial regulations are rigorously enforced with public databases, it leads the way in government programming and financing, the province invests in the development of strong local organic markets and the support related to extension, crop insurance and research are some of the most well supported in the country.
On the other hand, despite being the largest organic market in Canada, Ontario falls short on many levels beginning with the fact that the province has no standard for organic farmers to work from. There is no dedicated funding for organic production in Ontario, there is no dedicated staff to support the sector, Ontario’s primary crop insurance provider has plans that the report says are encouraging but are not visible nor advertised widely. And while the OMAFRA buy local program provides a logo for Foodland Ontario Organic, it’s a branding tool, not a provincially regulated designation.
COTA say it isn’t enough.
“Thus, any organic products made and sold within provincial borders lack regulation and enforcement. Enacting provincial regulations or adopting the national regulations at the provincial level would improve the integrity of organic products within the province.”
The report, The State of Organics: Federal-Provincial-Territorial Performance Report 2017, analysed the existing organic policy frameworks among Canadian governments at each level and detailed regulation, policy and programming gaps in jurisdiction – leading to unequal playing fields for organic businesses that hinder growth in the sector and fail to protect consumers.
COTA brought forward three recommendations to stimulate greater government support for organics in their report, released at an event Monday in Ottawa.
The first recommendation was to ensure that each province and territory adopts its own organic regulation, referencing Ontario in particular.
“Canada’s regulatory environment across Canada is a patchwork ranging from non-existent to rigorous. The lack of regulation or legislation is particularly problematic in Ontario, as it is a large organic market. Without a regulation, there is the potential for false or misleading claims, which compromises the integrity of the Canada organic brand,” the report stated.
The second recommendation was to expand organic data collection systems.
“Organic-specific data is limited, inconsistent and not always publicly available. Businesses, organizations and policy makers rely on consistent and robust data to make informed decisions. Governments should invest in expanding and improving data collection systems in collaboration with industry,” noting that the federal government should take the lead.
Finally, they would like to see specific policies across jurisdictions.
“There are a variety of approaches to supporting the organic sector. While each jurisdiction has specific needs, the diversity of programs between jurisdictions creates an unequal playing field for operators, both between domestic jurisdictions and internationally. The expansion and integration of programs within regions or commodity types is a critical leverage point for ensuring greater accessibility and quality of programs,” states the report.
Although there is no public compiled directory of organic producers – reflecting the lack of data of the Ontario organic sector – according to Pro-Cert’s Certified Client List of Producers of Organic Products, there are at least 28 organic producers in Woolwich and Wellesley townships.