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Consumers & the Standards

New Canadian Organic Logo

The new Canada Organic Logo

I am an organic consumer. What has changed after June 30, 2009?

Since June 30, 2009, Canada has moved from a voluntary organic regime to a mandatory one governed by the new Organic Products Regulations (OPR) (SOR/2006-338). The OPR’s new Canada Organic Logo has been activated although it will take time for businesses to start using it. The Canada Organic Logo is your guarantee that the products are grown according to the Canadian Organic Standards (COS). Since use of the new logo is voluntary, you will continue to see the logos of certifying bodies in stores.

How do I know if a product is really organic?

The organic logos and names of certifying bodies (CBs) are your assurance that a product has been grown and processed according to internationally recognized organic standards. The Canadian national standards control which substances can be used, how the soil is managed (organic farmers must demonstrate that they are building soil fertility), when and how processing facilities are cleaned, as well as how organic products are segregated from non-organic ones during transportation and sale. Adherence to the standards is verified annually in both field and processing facility by independent organic inspectors.

The Canada Organic Logo is a quick way to identify products grown and processed according to Canada’s national organic standards.

If you have doubts about an organic claim, you can file a complaint with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Do the standards mean more corporate involvement in Canadian organics?

The content of the standards is decided democratically by the Canadian General Standards Board’s Committee on Organic Agriculture. While there are some corporate voting members, each vote is equal. Download a list of the voting and non-voting members of the Committee on Organic Agriculture.

What do the standards say about GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms are not permitted under the standards, as stated in CAN/CGSB-32.310-2006, 1.4.1.a. Any product that is certified organic under the Organic Products Regulations (OPR) (SOR/2006-338) cannot use GMOs. In order to protect against GMO contamination, farmers must demonstrate to their certifying body (CB) that they have done everything possible to prevent contamination from neighbouring fields.

Effective protection against GMO contamination is virtually impossible for some crops. For example, canola pollen can drift up to two kilometres, leaving few locations in Canada where organic canola can be produced (For more information, visit the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate’s Organic Agriculture Protection Fund). For other crops such as corn, organic growers can reduce GMO contamination by late planting (to ensure that their corn comes into tassel at a different time than corn in neighbouring fields).

Farmers are required to develop buffer zones of eight metres to mitigate GMO engineered (or pesticide) drift from neighbouring fields. The Canadian Organic Standards (COS) also require that organic farmers use certified organic seed. If farmers are not saving and planting their own seed, they must ensure that their seed suppliers conform to standards requirements. For some crops, it is extremely difficult for commercial growers to obtain sufficient quantities of certified organic seed. In this case, growers must provide documentation proving that they have made at least three phone calls to organic seed providers. If they are still unable to obtain enough organic seed, they can use non-organic, GMO-free seed. The GMO-free status of the seed must be documented.

What do the standards say about pesticides?

Synthetic pesticides are not permitted under the standards, as stated in CAN/CGSB-32.310-2006, Section 1.4.1.a. Any product that is certified organic under the Organic Products Regulations (OPR) (SOR/2006-338) will not have been produced or handled with synthetic pesticides.

Substances that may be used to combat pests under organic methods are listed in the Permitted Substances Lists (PSL) (CAN/CGSB-32.310-2006). For example, a farmer may use biological organisms such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and occasionally use botanical pesticides. See the Permitted Substances Lists for more details.

What do the standards say about irradiation?

Irradiation is not permitted on food products or their inputs under the standards, as stated in CAN/CGSB-32.310-2006, Section 1.4.1.h. Any product that is certified organic under the Organic Products Regulations (OPR) (SOR/2006-338) will not have been exposed to ionizing radiation or forms of irradiation, except as outlined in CAN/CGSB-32.311-2006, Table 4.2, which states that ionizing radiation may be used on peat moss carrier before the addition of microbial inoculants.

What do the standards say about animal welfare?

As of June 30, 2009, certified organic livestock farmers must operate under Canada’s new national organic standards. Animal welfare is an important concern for organic farmers under the standards. CAN/CGSB-32.310-2006, Section 6.1.5 states that, “organic livestock management shall aim to utilize natural breeding methods, minimize stress, prevent disease, progressively eliminate the use of chemical allopathic veterinary drugs (including antibiotics), and maintain animal health and welfare”.

Organic farmers must accommodate the health and natural behaviour of all animals in relation to their living conditions. Similar stipulations are made in relation to breeding, livestock feed, transportation, handling, slaughter, and health care. CAN/CGSB-32.310-2006, Section 6.8 outlines the stocking rate, or minimal indoor and outdoor space required for animals. For example, battery cages for poultry are strictly prohibited. Synthetic growth regulators or hormones are also not permitted.

Therefore, although there are no restrictions on the size of an organic livestock operation, the standards do prohibit “factory farming” practices.

What do the standards mean for aquaculture?

Aquaculture is not currently included in the standards, but this may change. Organic aquaculture standards are being developed independently by the aquaculture industry with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.