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Organic industry pushes back on regulatory changes

Sector spokespersons say moving rules governing organic production under a 
larger regulatory framework will limit market opportunities and create 
needless new certification requirements

A spokesperson with Canadian Organic Growers (COG) says the organic industry is confident it’s made a strong case against having its rules shifted into a larger regulatory framework.

At issue is the migration of the Organic Products Regulation (OPR) into the Safe Foods for Canadians regulation.

In 2012, the passage of the Safe Foods for Canadians Act (SFCA) resulted in a number of regulations, including the OPR, being combined into that single document.

Organic industry advocates say that’s not where the OPR belongs and should it end up there it would result in needless and confusing new requirements for the sector.

The government consultation period on the SFCA ended April 21.

Canada Organic Growers and the Organic Federation of Canada partnered on a response listing reasons not to support the new Safe Foods Regulation as it’s currently proposed and urged the concerned public to voice their views as well.

“I’m sure they’re overwhelmed by the amount of comments they’ve received on this,” said COG director of operations Ashley St. Hilaire.

Meetings with federal Minister of Agriculture Lawrence MacAulay and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) president Paul Glover have also enabled these concerns to be aired, she said.

“We’re not going to let this issue go. And we’ll continue to meet with CFIA and the minister and the minister’s office as regularly as we can. We think that the policy-makers at CFIA and Health Canada and Agriculture Canada will listen to our concerns and we’ll be able to find a solution.”

One of the major concerns expressed is that by housing the OPR within food safety regulation means significantly limiting what sorts of products can even be certified organic in Canada.

This would mean only commodities such as food, livestock feed, aquaculture and seed would be permissible for certification. Yet there are sizable and growing market opportunities for non-food products too, said St. Hilaire.

“That would severely restrict the business opportunities that lie ahead for the organic sector of Canada,” she said, adding that there is growing demand for non-food products such as natural health products, body-care products, pet foods, textiles and medical and recreational marijuana.

Leaving this product area unregulated also opens up the potential for fraudulent claims being made by non-Canadian manufacturers bringing these products into the marketplace, she added.

Other changes would include having various means of transporting and storing organic goods certified, including the requirement that organically raised cattle could not be transported on the same trucks as commercial non-organic cattle.

The organic supply chain is simply not prepared to meet these requirements and they aren’t needed to maintain organic integrity anyway, St. Hilaire said.

“Slaughtering, conveying, transportation… it’s not realistic for those service providers at this time to obtain organic certification,” she said.

“There’s no incentive for them to seek it out. And if they had to do it, it would create a real problem for the supply chain in Canada.”

Other concerns raised include that organic certificates would expire after a year, even if the activity and product certified remained compliant with the Canadian Organic Standards and the operator was in the process of renewing their certificate.

Another concern is that an organic certificate would have to declare the exact organic content percentage of multi-ingredient products on the organic certificate.

Taken together, all these changes have the potential to “undo the entire Canadian organic supply chain,” a recent COG release stated.

The OPR was established in 2009 through an industry-government partnership and it is enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

So much has changed since then, said St. Hilaire, adding that the organic sector has matured and grown significantly and now has a much clearer vision of how it wants to operate.

“We think the big solution to the issues we’re facing now in terms of organics falling through the regulatory cracks is the creation of an Organic Act,” she said.

“We want to work with government to discuss our options for pursuing it.”

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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