Organic certification process in Ontario needs attention
Current regulations have lowest ratings in the country
By Kaitlynn Anderson
Members of the Ontario organic farming community are calling on the provincial government to put regulations into place.
Currently, Ontario has the lowest ratings for regulations and enforcement of organic production in the country, according to the Canada Organic Trade Association.
One of the main issues stems from the definition of organic, according to Laura Northey of the Organic Council of Ontario.
"Within the province of Ontario, the use of the term organic is completely unregulated. Anybody can call their product organic," Northey said in a CBC News article on Friday. "The problem here is that the word organic is being watered down and consumers are losing trust in the term."
Another issue arises from the fact that the government has limited resources.
“One of the limitations that we’re often seeing with provincial governments is a lack of resources for both developing and enforcing regulations,” Ashley St Hilaire, director of programs and government relations with the Canadian Organic Growers, said in an interview with Farms.com this morning.
“So, there’s a reluctance within the governments (to act), especially with the (limited) number of producers that regulation would serve.”
The strong consumer demand for organic products should be enough of an incentive to motivate governments to regulate the term, regardless of the number of producers, St Hilaire said.
The provincial government can follow one of two routes to achieve this regulation, according to St Hilaire.
“The government can either develop its own unique provincial organic regulation or it can adopt the national organic standards,” she said.
While the simpler route is to adopt the regulation that exists at the federal level, provincial resources will still be required. However, federal regulation operates on a complaint basis, so few resources would be required from the provincial government, according to St Hilaire.
“Regulation is the backbone of the organic industry,” she said. “Without the Canadian organic standards, organics wouldn’t exist in Canada. Standards legitimize the practice.”
Regulating organics could provide additional benefits to producers as well, including improved crop insurance coverage.
“In organics, crop insurance is still limited to a few commodities,” said St Hilaire. “Likely, coverage would improve with the establishment of provincial regulation.”
Government support through other programs, such as those which assist farmers in transitions to producing organically, may also improve with regulation, St Hilaire added.
To emphasize the importance of regulation for the industry, St Hilaire contrasted Canada and the United States, in terms of the maturity and development of the organic sector.
“One of the setbacks for Canadian organics is that we have a patchwork of provincial regulations, whereas in the U.S., a lot of it is nationally regulated,” she said.
“So, when you’re pooling together all of the producers at a national level, there is more of an incentive to develop thorough standards and different organic support programs.
“With the way (the Canadian) government administers agricultural policy, a lot of responsibility is put on provincial governments. From province to province, you have different approaches to regulating the same industry, which results in competitive disadvantages and confusion about what the rules are that producers must adhere to.”
With the increasing demand for organic products, there are huge market opportunities and economic benefits that could be reached with adequate regulation, St Hilaire emphasized.