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Farmers & the Standard

Why should I certify as organic under the new standard?


According to the Organic Products Regulations (OPR), farmers who wish to market their products as organic and trade across provincial or international borders and/or bear the Canada Organic Logo must be certified as organic with an accredited certifying body according to the regulations.


How do I certify as organic under the new standard?

It can take up to three years to certify part or all of your operation to organic, or if you can attest that no prohibited substances have been used on the land in the last three years, it will take a minimum of 12 months.

Step 1:

Organic farming is knowledge intensive. Make sure that you know what you're getting into, before you make the decision to transition. On the rules side, you need to purchase and read a copy of the Canadian Organic Standards (COS). COG's new Practical Skills book on record keeping will help you to set up a field to farm gate audit trail in order to comply with the record keeping requirements of the COS. 

For technical information - your best source of farmer-tested technical information is Canadian Organic Growers. We highly recommend that you puchase a copy of Gaining Ground: Making a Successful Transition to Organic Farming. This book will give you everything you need to get started on the path to transition. This book, based on interviews with 80 farmers who went through their own transition, will help you avoid some costly mistakes and save hours of time. We also have a number of other books and resources that will help you pickup the knowledge you need to go organic.

To learn about the practice of organic agriculture your best source of information is an organic farmer. If you don't know any in your area, consider joining COG to get connected to our local chapters and national network of farmers. In the fall and winter months, there are lots of workshops and conferences which are great places to meet organic farmers.

Step 2:

Once you've decided that organic farming is for you, identify the certifying bodies (CBs) in Canada approved by a Canadian Food Inspection Agency-accredited conformity verification body (CVB) or in British Columbia or Quebec choose a CB accredited by the province.

Step 3:

Identify your markets (domestic, European Union, Japan, etc.) and identify which certifying bodies can certify you to the standards required to access those markets. As of June 2009, Canada has signed an equivalency agreement with the United States, and Canadian farmers certified to the COS no longer require separate certification to access U.S. markets. Canada is working on similar agreements with other trading partners, with the the European Union designated as the next priority market.

Step 4:

Contact a few different certifying bodies to compare their programs and choose the right one for you. Certifying bodies differ substantially in the services that they provide and in their pricing structures.

Step 5:

Talk to a few farmers who are certified by various certifying bodies to find out what their experience has been. For a list of certified organic farmers, check out Canadian Organic Growers’ directory of organic farmers and businesses (if you would like to talk to a farmer in your area, enter your town as a key word in the search box).

What substances can I use in organic production?

The second part of the Canadian Organic Standards (COS) is made up of the Organic Production Systems Permitted Substances Lists (PSL) (CAN/CGSB-32.311-2006), which lists substances that are permitted for use in organic systems. The list does not specify which substances are prohibited. This prohited substance list is contained within Part I of the Standards: General Principles and Management Standards

Both parts of the Canadian Organic Standards are available for a fee from the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) website.

Since it's impossible to tell from reading labels, whether an input is allowed for use in organic systems or not, different organizations have developed brand name list. The most comprehensive of these is produced by the Organic Materials Review Institute in the U.S. However, this list was developed for the U.S. organic program, not for Canada.

In Canada, the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network has developed its own Directory of Allowable Organic Inputs. In Quebec, a similar directory called MIB (Manuel des Intrants Bio) is available on the Agri-Réseau website.

Will following the standards increase my paperwork?

 In the initial stages of your transition to organic agriculture, setting up the audit trail and doing the day-to-day record keeping will make more work for you. However, consumers are demanding increased transparency and accountability from the food system, and whether they are organic or not, farmers will have to do more paperwork if they want to keep up in this challenging new market.

Once you have invested in developing a good audit trail, you will find that it has benefits beyond simply allowing you to meet the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime (COR). If your audit trail is electronic, for example, you can quickly modify the forms for your certification application each year. Ultimately, keeping good records helps the bottom line. For more information on this topic, see Canadian Organic Growers’ new publication, Record-Keeping for Organic Farmers: how to get and stay certified.

I grow uncertified organic products. How will the Organic Products Regulations affect my marketing?

According to the Organic Products Regulations (OPR) farmers who market their products as organic must certify as organic with an accredited certifying body (CB) if they wish to trade their products across provincial or international border or if their products will bear the Canada Organic Logo. Some provinces such as British Columbia, Quebec, and Manitoba also have their own rules governing how organic products are to be produced, processed, and marketed within their jurisdictions.

Canadian law prohibits food labelling which is deceptive regarding the method of production of the food or its other characteristics. Other regulations and agencies that control how organic products are marketed and sold in Canada include the Food and Drugs Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), and Health Canada’s Veterinary Drugs Directorate (VDD).