By Susan Mann
The lack of an organic regulation in Ontario is hampering the sector’s growth, says an Organic Council of Ontario spokesman.
Chair Tom Manley made the comment in response to a Canada Organic Trade Association report that noted the surprising lack of any provincial regulations when Ontario is the largest organic market in Canada. The report was released July 17.
Currently anyone in Ontario can call a product organic even if it isn’t as long as the product doesn’t cross provincial boundaries or use the federal organic logo.
“There’s no Ontario regulation that monitors (what is organic) and you can say whatever you want,” Manley said. His certified organic processing business, with two locations in Eastern Ontario and one in Southwestern Ontario, includes livestock feed, grain for human consumption and a flour mill.
Manley knows of a few cases in Ontario of fraudulent use of the word organic, including an Eastern Ontario meat farm that referred to its products as organic in a brochure. “It can’t be organic because they buy conventional grain from off their farm,” Manley said.
Misuse of the term organic, either inadvertently or intentionally, undermines consumer confidence, he added. The lack of consumer confidence “limits the growth of the organic sector” and prevents conventional farmers from going organic because they don’t trust the system. Moreover, why go through all the hoops to get certified if no one has to?
The Canadian organic association noted some provinces, such as Manitoba, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick adopted the national organic regulation, introduced by the federal government in 2009. Quebec has its own regulation that refers to the national standard. The other five provinces don’t have one.
Manley said Ontario doesn’t need to develop its own regulation from scratch but could just adopt the national standard.
The province can mandate “that anyone making an organic claim in Ontario must be certified to the national standard,” he notes. “The system is already in place. The certifiers are there and are accredited by the federal program.”
Manley said it’s possible there isn’t enough political will in Ontario to adopt the national standard and that’s why it hasn’t happened yet. “They (government officials) understand that from rural Ontario, people don’t want more government regulations.”
The Ontario organic council agrees with rural Ontarians’ sentiment of not wanting more regulations.
Small organic farmers are concerned about the time, costs and amount of paperwork required in certifying their operations, Manley added. The provincial government could help by providing financial support for certification for small farmers, and work with the Ontario council to simplify the federal requirements for small farms, he said.
Certified organic field crop and egg farmer Richard Blyeven said commodity boards also have a role to play in supporting the sector. Some of the province’s bigger commodity organizations should follow the lead of Dairy Farmers of Ontario and have a specific advisory committee for its organic production.
“It’s a growing sector,” said Blyeven, who farms near Cayuga and is vice-president of Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. “The ship is going along and nobody is really steering it.”
The Canadian association’s report noted more than 55 per cent of Canadians buy organic-labelled products weekly. The sector was estimated to be worth $4.7 billion in 2015, up by about $1 billion from the $3.5 billion in 2013.
In addition to recommending all provinces and territories adopt organic regulations equivalent to or more robust than the federal one, the organic trade association said governments should invest in expanded and improved data collection and increased organic policies and programs.