13, 2007: The Canada Organic Regulations published
December 2006 were largely driven home by Paddy Doherty, one-time
hippie farmer and now chair of the federal Organic Value Chain
Doherty left “big city” Vancouver, British Columbia,
in 1974 to join a commune in caribou country. To earn his
keep, he became a brakeman on the railroad, a job he held
for 20 years. Along with two farm partners, Doherty established
Dragon Mountain Farm—a 10-acre market garden of mixed
certified organic vegetables. Today the farm delivers fresh
vegetables in boxes every week to 125 homes and outlets in
the local area; 170 ewes and lambs are also now part of the
This is the almost-secret life of Paddy Doherty. Most Canadians
involved in organics know him simply as “Paddy,”
a chief organizer of the country’s new Organic Regulations.
While it may be a leap from railcars to regulations, it’s
not an illogical one considering the rest of his background.
Doherty was hired in 2003 by the Certified Organic Advisory
Board of British Columbia to help drive home the Canada Organic
Products Regulations to make Canada more competitive in the
export marketplace and boost consumer confidence in Canadian
organic products. A threat by the European Union to embargo
Canadian organic imports unless they implemented an acceptable
organic program lent urgency to the task.
is not efficient; it’s silly to think
it can be."
For Doherty, the job entailed organizing national meetings,
minutes and teleconference calls, and translating everything
official from English into French and vice versa to meet Canada’s
dual-language protocols. It meant three years of working to
establish common understandings across cultures, places and
industry sectors. “Democracy is not efficient; it’s
silly to think it can be,” said Doherty from his farm
When the new Organic Product Regulations were published in
the Canada Gazette (akin to the U.S. Federal Register) a year
ago, champagne was uncorked and many thought it was a done
deal. But the new Regulations are only in an implementation—
or shake-down—phase and aren’t scheduled to take
effect until December 14, 2008.
The Regulations flow from The Standard
The national Regulations are enforceable under the National
Standard of Canada for Organic Agriculture, which governs
organic human food and livestock feed. The Standard has been
in effect since 1999 and was revised in September 2006.
The purpose of the Regulations is to establish a system by
which the federal government can regulate the use of the "Canada
Organic" agricultural product logo on food products and
livestock feed certified as meeting the provisions of the
National Organic Standard, and that contain at least 95 percent
“This national organic regime is intended to facilitate
international market access, provide protection to consumers
against deceptive and misleading labeling practices and support
the further development of the domestic market,” said
Michel Saumur of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
The CFIA, which is accountable to the federal minister of
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC, similar to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, or USDA), is charged with implementing
the organic regulations.
The Standard provides requirements for organic production
systems through its two parts: the General Principles and
Management Standards (which deals with practices) and the
Organic Permitted Substances List (which deals with products).
The Standard outlines the following principles:
- Protect the environment, minimize soil degradation and
erosion, decrease pollution and optimize biological productivity.
- Replenish and maintain long-term soil fertility by optimizing
conditions for biological activity within the soil.
- Maintain biological diversity for long-term sustainability.
- Recycle materials and resources whenever possible.
- Provide appropriate care to livestock to promote their
health and behavioral needs.
- Maintain the integrity of organic foods and processed
products from initial handling to point of sale.
- Use renewable resources in locally organized production
Canada’s Permitted Substances List (PSL) is a “positive
list” detailing what is allowed in organic production
and processing. (By contrast, a negative list would show what
is not allowed.) It is undergoing revision to conform to all
the country’s organic initiatives. “There will
be regular revisions on a schedule and we can build in a mechanism
that allows for growers and industry to adapt to changes,”
says Stephanie Wells, president of the Organic Federation
of Canada, one of the groups involved in the organic policy
Responsible for updating the National Standard is the Standards
Committee on Organic Agriculture. This is a group of more
than 100 representatives from across the organic community
including consumers, tradespeople, technicians and representatives
from both government and industry. The committee is appointed
by The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB), a federal
body charged with overseeing the development of all types
of federal standards.
A national advocacy group known as the Canadian Organic Growers
received federal funding to oversee the process and ensure
continued consultation between government and industry. Amendments
to the Standard are being provided by ballot to the members
of the Standards Committee and approval must be achieved by
consensus. “Consensus” refers to “substantial
agreement,” not necessarily unanimity, but the process
includes an effort to resolve all objections.
The Standards Committee’s current revision phase includes
meetings in August and November. Laura Telford, executive
director of COG is generally pleased with how the process
is rolling out, challenges and all. “I was worried that
the big interests would want to ram things through, and the
‘purists’ in the room would hold things up,”
Telford said from her Ottawa office.
Details that matter
Telford explains that there is always a big discussion about
“trade expedience” versus “organic values.”
One example is that the current Standard allows toxic chemicals
to be used as wood preservatives. Prairie farmers rely on
fence posts to keep cattle in and predators out.
is difficult to achieve and takes time; just
when you think you have moved forward on an
issue, new concerns arise."
Canada Organic Growers
“We are talking a lot of fence posts in the prairies,”
said Telford. “It would take a great deal of expense
to source alternate materials for new fence posts or to find
new methods of fencing, but most of the prairie farmers at
the August meeting said that they do not want those chemicals
in their fence posts,” adding that if the bar is not
set high now, there will not be a push for alternatives.
However, in the recent November round of meetings, some livestock
farmers remained concerned that alternative fence posts, such
as those made out of cedar, are not yet commercially available
locally and would be extremely expensive to source elsewhere.
“Consensus is difficult to achieve and takes time;
just when you think you have moved forward on an issue, new
concerns arise,” said Telford. The next round of meetings
is scheduled for April 2008.
Brian Baker, research director of the U.S.-based Organic
Materials Research Institute (OMRI), has “observer”
or “information only” status on the Standards
Committee. Baker served on the International Federation of
Organic Agriculture Movement’s (IFOAM) Standards Committee
to develop criteria and evaluation processes for amendment
of the European organic regulatory agency’s substances
list, and he worked with the National
Organic Standards Board in the United States. The 15-member
body represents the U.S. organic community—from farmers
to processors—and makes non-binding recommendations
to update and revise U.S. organic policy.
Baker says it’s up to the group process to prove if
the existing Canada National Standard is contradictory to
Regulations and, if so, to implement changes by the December
14, 2008 deadline. He commended the process of working through
consensus, affirming that “Canada does not have autocratic
and unrepresented stakeholders.”
Most sources agree the main difference in organic standards
between the United States and its neighbour to the north are
particulars in the lists of permitted substances. These include:
is not permitted as a soil amendment in Canada but is conditionally
permitted in the United States, where it is used to boost
nitrogen uptake. The United States and Chile are the only
two countries in the world that allow its use. Chilean nitrate
is mined from the deserts of Chile, and its extraction requires
environmental degradation generally considered antithetical
to the spirit of organic farming. There are petitions against
its use in the National Organic Program (U.S.). Click
here for more info. “Chilean nitrate is seen as
quick fix and is not considered to build organic fertility
in the long run,” Telford said.
Antibiotics in organic dairy.
Canada has a ”last resort” clause for veterinarians
to use antibiotics, and the milk must be withdrawn from
supply for 14 days or twice as long as the medication’s
withdrawal period, whichever is longer. At the November
meetings, the livestock working group in the Standards Committee
to Organic Agriculture examined a proposal to extend the
14 days, which will be put forward at the next meeting in
“This is being driven by consumer concerns that 14
days is not enough,” Telford said. Baker said that
the zero tolerance of antibiotics policy in the United States
works well for big dairies that operate conventional and
organic herds but can be punitive to the small farmer with
a closed herd. Animals treated with antibiotics in the United
States are required to be removed from the organic herd.
Synthetic and natural permitted
substances. One issue causing debate in
both Canada and the United States is the use of the terms
“synthetic” and “natural” substances
and their regulation. There are some synthetics on Canada’s
Permitted Substances List, but synthetics are prohibited
in the Standard. “There is general recognition that
this needs to be reconciled,” Telford said.
For example, pheromones occur in nature, but the pheromones
used in all agriculture, including organic agriculture,
are synthetic. Since the meeting in November a new proposal
is on the table that will prohibit synthetics in general;
exceptions will be allowed and measured against a list of
criteria based on outcomes such as whether the substance
will degrade the environment or soil.
Some at the table have expressed concern that allowing
synthetics will break down the integrity of the organic
system, but Telford said: “If we make the criteria
strong enough for getting on the Permitted Substances List,
then the integrity of our organic system will be maintained.”
Canada and international trade
The National Organic Standard is based on the
European Union model, but Canada is seeking to trade with
both the United States and the European Union. The Canadian
Standards are designed to be seamless with those of the European
Union and are similar but not exactly reciprocal. Equivalency
agreements are being sought with other major trading partners.
The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) is currently
assessing the Canadian system, according to Michael Saumur.
Currently, the USDA accredits certifying bodies in Canada
for export to the United States. “This takes a lot of
resources. If we can get an equivalency determination process
in place, the USDA could delegate this to the CFIA,”
Saumur said the new Regulations will help Canada harmonize
with international markets. Companies that already export
organic products to the European Union should have no interruption
of trade during the phase-in period or over the next 12 months.
Canada is also the first country in the world to track trade
data on organic products, providing information about imported
products that could have been grown in Canada. Saumur said
that the list is not yet complete, calling the undertaking
an expensive and extensive process.
Trade within Canada
Canada is a federation of 10 provinces and three territories.
Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (akin to
the American Constitution), the new federal regulations apply
to import, export and inter-provincial trade (trade between
provinces) of organic products, but not to intra-provincial
trade (trade within a province).
Products with only ingredients from that province and intended
for sale only within that province are bound under provincial
jurisdiction. Saumur said that each province needs to develop
its own process for implementing the Regulations in cooperation
with the national regulatory body. Quebec and British Columbia
already have such processes in place, and other provinces
are considering following suit. Telford is worried that in
the absence of provincial regulation, consumers might be duped
at farmers' markets by vendors making claims that products
are organic when they are not certified.
Saumur said that under the Consumer Packaging and Labeling
Act and the Food and Drug Act, fraudulent claims can be policed.
If a vendor claims its products are organic and they are not,
he said, such a claim could be deemed misleading advertising.
“Producers who want to make and sell products only within
one province can use the Canada Organic label, but they must
comply with the National Regulations,” Saumur explained.
In the United States, the same federal organic regulations
apply to all products, intrastate commerce included. “The
standards for a tomato in Vermont are the same as for a tomato
in Seattle,” says Joan Schaffer, spokesperson for the
USDA’s organic program.
Whatever issues remain, the many stakeholders involved in
the negotiations have good reason to keep at the task of creating
a unified organic system. Global demand for organic products
is growing exponentially, and Canada’s organic industry
needs the Canadian Regulations and Standards in place and
working to continue exporting organic crops and products.
“Ultimately," says Paddy Doherty, "both
the consumer and industry will benefit,” said Doherty.