Launch of Public Review for Proposed Changes to Canadian Organic Standards

With information from the Organic Federation of Canada

Since 2009, all foods produced and sold in Canada that carry the Canada Organic logo have been certified to the Canadian Organic Standards.

From oats to onions, and maple syrup to milk, the Canadian Organic Standards (COS) cover a great range of food products, including processed foods, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, sprouts, meats and fruit. For all these types of production, the COS promote and describe agricultural practices that minimize the impact of agriculture on our environment. The COS promote management practices that enrich soil fertility and promote animal welfare.

Referenced by the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, the COS must be updated and validated every five years.

Learn more about the Standards Review process and OCO’s role. Over the past year and a half, OCO held our webinar series #YourStandardsYourSay to help members and organic stakeholders understand how the revision of the organic standards works, and better understand some of the key issues at play in this revision process. 


The public review has now started! Looking for feedback

Farmers, processors, members of the public and others are invited to comment on the proposed amendments to the Standard.

OCO will be collecting comments from our members to pass along to the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and to inform our position with relation to future revisions. OCO is a voting member on the CGSB Technical Committee, represented by Simon Jacques. Please send any comments to [email protected] and provide your name and organization so that we can compile your comments and form an OCO position. Comments will be accepted by the CGSB until September 30, 2019.

The standards are presented in two versions: one version contains the text of the current 2015 Standard with tracked changes; suggested deletions are crossed out and additions are underlined. This will allow you to see exactly what the proposed changes are. The other “clean” version displays the standard as if all the proposed changes have been accepted. 

CAN/CGSB-32.310 Organic Production Systems: General Principles and Management Standards
> with tracked changes
> clean version
CAN/CGSB-32.311 Organic Production Systems: Permitted Substances Lists (PSL)
> with tracked changes
> clean version

An overview of the proposed changes

When you read the draft with the tracked changes, you may be surprised at the large number of proposed changes. However, many of them are simply editorial in nature, that is, they alter the text to clarify its wording. For example, the terms “non-synthetic” and “synthetic” have often been replaced by terms that more accurately describe the substance.

The proposed changes also reflect the evolution of technology. For example, “treated seeds” used to mean fungicide-coated seeds. Now, seeds can be coated with clay and other acceptable substances. The Technical Committee therefore clarified the use of terms related to treatment, priming and coating of seeds.

The definition of genetic engineering has also been rewritten as genetic engineering has evolved. The standards must clearly state that that genetic modifications and certain other new technologies, such as gene editing, are not allowed.

The Greenhouse Task Force has proposed significant changes. The text has been reorganized to make it easier to understand and the Greenhouse Crop Production section has been renamed “Protected Crop Structures and Containers“.

The section applies only to a particular type of production. For example, if you have a greenhouse with crops grown in the ground without supplemental heating or lighting, this section does not apply. You can just follow the general guidelines on crop production. The issue of artificial lighting in greenhouses has been the subject of much debate; the proposed text only allows it for crops harvested within 60 days. 

The Working Group on Livestock has had many heated debates on poultry farming conditions. The revised standard proposes, among other changes, to provide shade on outdoor runs, clarifies requirements for access to the outside and perches, and introduces the concept of “winter gardens”. Watch OCO’s webinar on poultry outdoor access to learn more.

With hogs, more details were added to the requirement of outdoor access. Clarifications have made to the restrictions on vaccines, amino acids and parasiticides. The needs for indoor (barn) space for goats, sheep and cattle were examined. The clause is clarified, and, in many cases, the animals now require more space.

Another controversial issue that the Crop Working Group confronted was parallel production, i.e. the “simultaneous production or preparation of organic and non-organic crops that are visually indistinguishable when crops, livestock or products are placed side by side”. The proposed compromise is to allow parallel production for “annual crops harvested during the last 24 months of the transitional period, when fields are added to existing farms”. This would allow organic farms to expand into conventional fields without having to create a separate business in order to transition those fields to organic. Watch OCO’s webinar or read our blog post on parallel production to learn more.

The working group also introduced a new requirement: farmers must take action “to promote and protect ecosystem health”.

The Preparation and the Permitted Substances Lists for Crop Production Working Groups have made a number of changes to address new products and to make it easier to identify what products are permitted. The proposed merger of Tables 4.2 and 4.3 marks a turning point in the presentation of permitted substances in crop production. Finally, the principle of social equity has been added to the text of the standard.


Acknowledgements

The Organic Federation of Canada (OFC) would like to thank Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) for announcing the launch of the public review and for AAFC’s financial contribution to the review work.

The OFC also thanks all members of the Technical Committee and working groups who worked hard to analyze change requests and recommend best ecological practices in Canadian organic production.

Finally, the OFC would like to thank Janet Wallace, who worked very carefully to present the versions of the proposed revised standards with follow-up changes. A task that requires a lot of patience and passion. Janet also has a series of articles on the revision work that you can read by clicking here.


After the public review….

Public comments are submitted directly to the CGSB. OCO will be collecting comments from our members at [email protected], and compiling them to send to the CGSB. 

Each comment will be read and processed. If the request and its rationale merely repeat what has already been discussed during the revision, no action will be taken. However, if a new and convincing point is raised, it will be referred back to the relevant working group. 

The Technical Committee will vote on the revised draft by the end of 2019 after all comments from the review have been resolved. OCO’s Board Member, Simon Jacques, will have a vote and represent OCO members. If adopted by vote, the standard will be ratified by the Standards Council of Canada as a National Standard of Canada and published by November 2020.

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