Q I've heard that Canada now has national organic regulations. Didn't we have some before, and how does this change things?
A With all the organic products on shelves, you'd think we had regulations in place all along, but nope. Regs have been in the works for, oh, about a decade now, and while we've actually had a voluntary standard since 99, there's been nothing mandatory on the books.
This wasn't sitting well with our trade partners, who didn't like importing products from a country with a messy voluntary system under which dozens of different certifiers could have different standards. (Quebec and BC are the only provinces that regulate organics.) In our wild west of organics, anyone could use the word and get away with it. As a result, the EU has been threatening us with border closures and a December 06 deadline to get our shit together.
Which brings us to the present. In early September, the feds announced they would finally move on official national regulations. But is this cause for celebration or should we brace ourselves for a food fight?
I trolled the organic community for their thoughts, and for the most part everyone seems quite happy with the proposed regs.
For one thing, unlike the U.S.'s, our regs will act as a minimum standard, and farmers or certifiers who wish to go above and beyond it are free to do so. (The USDA system, on the other hand, creates a ceiling of sorts that doesn't allow certifiers to have better standards than the government's - pretty juvenile really, since it forced some certifiers to harmonize down.)
The Canada Organic label also gets the thumbs-up for its animal welfare requirements. Poultry and rabbits can't be caged, animals have to have access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, pastures. But like U.S. regs, ours don't stipulate how long cattle have to be outdoors to qualify as organic, and south of the border this has led to some serious abuse. There's been a huge scuffle, boycotts and all, over large organic dairy producers keeping their cows locked up in feedlots.
However, Laura Telford of the Canadian Organic Growers says the root of the problem doesn't lie in the standard itself but in shoddy certifying bodies and the fact that the USDA has been pretty slack about making sure those guys do their jobs. Canada's organic dairy scene, says Telford, hasn't had this problem.
Other elements of the Canuck regs are a definite improvement but might drive some organic farmers out of business. For instance, organic growers won't be allowed to spread manure from non-organic factory farms on fields . Paddy Doherty (who sat on the Canadian Organic Regulatory Committee) says this could seriously damage businesses like that of BC's Fraserland Farms, one of the most successful organic farms in Canada.
The biggest problem with the new system actually has nothing to do with what we put in our bellies but what we slather on our yards and faces. Both garden and beauty products have been left out of the loop. So you're on your own when buying all those organic shampoos and deodorants. (Of course, a bottle of organic jojoba body wash can get a stamp of approval through a certifier, but it won't have an official Canada Organic label). And anyone who's walked into a garden centre knows that the word "organic" is tossed around more than a funnel at a frat party.
FYI, national organic aquaculture standards are in the works for farmed fish and should hopefully be integrated into the new organic regs sometime in the future (although many believe that nothing that swims in our polluted seas can be considered truly organic).
Other than that, the regs cover all the basics you'd expect. But if you want to take a look for yourself, head to www.inspection.gc.ca. You still have time to put in your 2 cents. The public can send in written comments until November 16.
Got a question?
Send your green consumer queries to firstname.lastname@example.org