Organic FAQ/ Statistics

What does organic mean?

Organic agriculture is a production method which promotes and enhances biodiversity, protects long-term soil health and reduces the impact of agriculture on climate change by encouraging carbon sequestration in the soil.

More about organic.

How do I know if something I buy is organic?

Certification bodies inspect and designate farms as “certified organic” based on a set of guidelines meeting or exceeding the minimum requirements set out by the National Organic Standard. No prohibited materials may be used for 3 years prior to certification. Once a business is certified organic, it labels its food with the name of the certification body or the certification number.

Canada has a federally legislated standard for organic agriculture which will limit the use of the word “organic” on products and provide a “Canada Organic” logo to be displayed on organic products.  The new regulation came into effect on June 30, 2009.

How does a farmer become certified organic?

Organic certification addresses the need for assurance that organic food is grown and processed in accordance with specified organic standards. A certification body assesses the farm or processing facility to ensure that it is adhering to these standards. In order to become certified, a farmer must not use any prohibited materials for 3 years prior to certification. The farmer pays a fee for an inspector to review the history and setup of their operation, and to conduct an inspection of their facility. If the operation is found to be in compliance with the standards, a certificate of certification will be issued. Annual updates and inspections are required to maintain certified organic status.

Why does organic cost more?

Organic food does not always cost more than conventionally grown products. In fact, many items are equivalent in cost to their conventional counterparts. However, there are several factors that make some organic items more expensive:

  • farming organically tends to be more labour intensive
  • organic production requires organic, species appropriate feed be used in raising animals
  • organic production avoids vaccines and veterinary drugs, which can make caring for livestock more cost intensive
  • no synthetic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers are used- farmers must invest in soil fertility
  • organic food distribution systems are less centralized, which adds costs to the final product when purchased through intricate food chains such as grocery stores
  • farms tend to have higher costs and lower yields as organic operations often place a focus on environmental stewardship and responsibility for the long-term health of the soil, air and water

I buy local, why do I need to spend more on organic food?

We feel its unfair the local farmer (regardless of production method) has to compete with cheap, dumped imports in season that drive the price down- products grown in labour conditions we would find appalling and with chemicals our conventional farm community has rejected due to their toxicity.

Yet organic does matter- organic soils provide a better carbon sink than conventionally managed fields. Each year, organic farms keep thousands of pounds of agri-chemicals out of streams, soil tables, animal habitats and rivers. When you consider everything we get from organic, its amazing we don’t spend more!

I eat natural foods, and I see “raised without…,” “grass fed,” “corn fed,” and “naturally raised” on what I buy. What is the difference?

Many claims exist. Today there are some regulations that govern behaviors.

Natural refers to what happens to the food once it enters handling and processing areas, and speaks nothing to production methods in the field. Natural governs food additives, colourants and preservatives, NOT sustainability values in farming and processing.

Only organic foods protect the land base by growing feed organically, and protect you from indirect consumption of GMOs. “Natural” products may contain GMOs- there is no standard to prevent their inclusion. Only organics has a federally legislated Standard you can trust.

In Ontario:

  • 680 certified organic farmers in Ontario (0.9% of total farms in Ontario)
  • 14 farms in transition to becoming certified organic
  • 220 certified processors
  • 37 certified handlers and traders

Growth in the number of certified farms has occurred in Atlantic Canada and Alberta; otherwise there is little change from 2007 numbers. There were declines in Quebec, Saskatchewan and BC. Quebec’s decline may be a result of different counting in 08 from 07 (if a farm had crops and maple syrup operation it may have been counted twice in 07) rather than a decline in number of farms. In fact acreage in organic production in Quebec increased by 5,666 ha from 2007 to 41,629 ha in 2008.

Overall there were 69 fewer certified farms reported in 2008 compared with 2007. There are at least 190 farms in transition but not all CBs provided data for this category.

Additional statistics for previous years may be found here.