Manitoba Organic Alliance Pitches “Unified” Voice

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If conventional farmers have Keystone Agricultural Producers lobbying on their behalf, who speaks for organic producers in Manitoba?

According to Priscilla Reimer, chair of the Manitoba Organic Alliance, strong producer support for MOA could create a representative, democratically elected, unified voice for the province’s growing organic sector.

“MOA is to the entire organic sector what KAP is to the province’s agricultural sector,” said Reimer, a former organic inspector for Organic Producer’s Association of Manitoba, at the organic certifying body’s annual general meeting last week.

“Governments listen when a sector speaks with a unified voice. This applies at every level, regardless of the issue, whether it’s a standards amendment issue, a trade issue or a question of funding.”

MOA, founded in 2009 by Virden-based Organic Producers Association of Manitoba (OPAM) and the Organic Food Council of Manitoba, pledges to serve as a clearing house and single point of communication with the entire organic value chain in the same manner as KAP, or the Manitoba Cattle Producers’ Association, serve the interests of their members.

She added that the Organic Federation of Canada, which addresses issues of national concern, is made up of provincial and regional organizations like MOA, which elect members to represent them on the national stage.

Reimer noted that Quebec producer organizations have excelled at this, because of their emphasis on unity, preparation, and consultation of concerns of their membership.

“It’s amazing. When they arrive, you can tell that they have consulted ahead of the meeting, they know exactly what they want, and for the most part, they get it for that reason,” she said. “That’s the kind of thing that we want to foster in Manitoba.”

With three members on the national organic standards committee hailing from Manitoba, an effective MOA would ensure that the concerns of Manitoba organic producers are heard with regard to genetically modified crops such as GM alfalfa and other issues.

Currently, the Manitoba government is poised to take the lead in implementing the new mandatory national organic standard, which came into force on June 30, 2009, within provincial boundaries.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency only has jurisdiction over

interprovincial and international trade.

That means that once negotiations between the provincial government and the CFIA are finished, the province will proclaim new legislation making it the first to close the loophole that allows farms and businesses not certified organic to continue labelling and selling their products as “organic” within Manitoba.

“There’s a strong feeling at the Organic Federation of Canada level that all provinces and territories should implement the national regulation,” said Reimer.

“Everyone is waiting to see what Manitoba will accomplish, how much it will cost, and all of those kinds of details.”

When the legislation is rolled out, MOA will work with the province, educate the public on the implications of the rules, and help to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.

Other issues, such as how best to handle the problem of soil phosphorus depletion under current organic amendment restrictions, would be best handled by MOA.

The Canadian General Standards Board “owns” the national standard, but it is “maintained” by the Organic Technical Committee of the CGSB through a consensus process, she noted.

“Canada is unique in this aspect,” she said.

That means that if aspects of the standard need to be changed, MOA would be able to adequately research the science behind various alternatives, and bring forward proposals to build consensus that would allow the passage of needed amendments.

“These are all issues that the sector can address. If we are convinced that the standard doesn’t make the kind of room that we need to farm to the best of our ability by organic principles, then we need to put an amendment forward that will change the rules so that we can,” said Reimer. “This is eminently possible.”

MOA will host its annual general meeting on April 10 in Headingley.

daniel. winters @fbcpublishing.com

UNIFIED FIELDS: Priscilla Reimer, chair of MOA, explains the advantages of having a strong provincial umbrella group for the organic sector at OPAM’s AGM last week.

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