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 Roundtable.
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 farm’s mix.
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
is not efficient; it’s silly to think it can
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 office.
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 organic ingredients.
“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 systems.
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 negotiations.
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
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
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 April 2008.
“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
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,” he said.
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.