There is a gap in Ontario's organic regulation system.
According to OMAFRA, products produced and sold within the same province are not regulated unless they are using the federal organic logo.
This means that it is possible for consumers to be misled by the use of the term to describe foods that are not certified, or do not meet the minimum amount of certified organic content.
Canada created the regulation that adopted and enforced the Canadian Organic Standards in 2009. Under this regulation, only products traded inter-provincially and internationally must follow the federal standard in order to be labelled “organic” and use the logo.
Which means that any business trading within Ontario can call its products organic, even if they do not meet the Canada Organic Standard.
To date, 5 provinces (Manitoba, Quebec, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) have adopted provincial regulations, although BC's regulation will not be active until 2018. In order to assist the government’s efforts in moving towards an Organic Regulation in Ontario, The Organic Council of Ontario has compiled a comparative document with information on organic regulations in the five provinces where they already exist. Download the comparison here.
“As a certified organic retailer, we won’t carry an organic product unless it is certified to the federal standard. Many times that means that we have to turn down Ontario producers, or prioritize non-local ones, due to the lack of regulation in Ontario.
As a community engaged merchant and large retailer, trust in our standards and the products we carry is imperative. We can’t jeopardize that by allowing products on our shelves that aren’t traceably certified to the federal standard."
- JOSHUA THATCHER | Store Team Leader
Whole Foods Market – Lansdowne Park, Ottawa
Why This is Important
Consumer confusion around the term "organic" puts Ontario’s growing organic sector at risk.
Only 57% of farms making organic claims are certified organic in Ontario. At farmers’ markets, only 10% of the 33% of farms making organic claims were certified. OCO often receives anecdotal accounts of other businesses, such as restaurants, caterers, and distributors, using the term "organic" to describe their business or products even though they are not certified.
This lack of consistency means that the organic brand is weakened, having an overall impact on the organic premium. Organic farmers who invest in certification in good faith operate at a financial disadvantage in the Ontario marketplace.
Today's food industry is bursting with marketing terms that confuse consumers. The organic certification system is the only system in Canada that provides true legitimacy to products farmed and produced to higher ecological standards. It's imperative that any loopholes in the regulation system be fixed so that consumer confidence in organic food remains high.
- Mario Fiorucci, Founder | The Healthy Butcher | RealFoodToronto.com
We call on the Government of Ontario to consult with Ontario’s organic sector via OCO to produce and implement regulations that are in line with the Canada Organic Standard, and that are comparable to those of other Canadian provinces.
An ideal regulation for Ontario would include:
- capacity for enforcement and significant penalties for offences (as in Quebec and Manitoba);
- transitional supports for small-scale operations, new entrants and diversified farms who wish to certify;
- a provision to allow for information sharing by certification bodies to support a provincial data strategy;
- provisions for monitoring & retail labelling; and,
- provisions to allow fee collection for sector supports (e.g. an amendment to exempt "organic" from the definitions of commodities represented by other marketing boards)
What do you think?
Do you support Organic Regulation in Ontario? Send a letter to your MPP.
Different areas of the organic sector have unique perspectives. We've made every effort possible to be inclusive and consider the concerns of all organic stakeholders, but there may be issues we've missed. Please tell us how organic regulation will affect you, or let us know if you see any potential issues.
[Please note that OCO is NOT the regulating body and has no power to enfore organic regulations. If you would like to launch an official complaint, you may do so through the Canada Food Inspection Agency, which is the regulating body that enforces the Canada Organic Regime.]