Tag archive

organic certification

Certification Coordinator Welcomes New Online System With Open Arms!

in 2020/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Summer 2020/Tools & Techniques

Corinne Impey

When it comes to growing, organic certification, and supporting local operators, Cara Nunn could be considered an expert. She has also seen many changes over her 20-year career in the organic industry.

Cara is the Certification Coordinator for the North Okanagan Organics Association (NOOA) and the Similkameen Okanagan Organic Producers Association (SOOPA).

“My interest in growing began at a very young age as a child raised on a market garden in the Lake District of the Okanagan,” says Cara, who has a professional background in biogeography and experience working as a Managing Agrologist in the ginseng industry.

Cara started working with NOOA in 1997 and later expanded her work to include SOOPA. Now, nearly 23 years later, Cara continues to support organic growers and operators. Most recently, Cara has been helping her operators with the switch to iCertify, COABC’s newly launched online organic certification and renewal system. At the same time, she has been learning new skills and processes related to the administration of the online program.

“The system has come together better than I could have asked for,” says Cara. Having participated in the initial system development as well as many system demos, feedback gathering sessions, and testing, Cara played an active role in the project. “I really appreciate the input we had in developing the questions and format,” she says.

“The system is very robust and extremely capable,” says Cara. She acknowledges that at times, it can be a bit daunting, but “the iCertify Technical Advisor has been invaluable in getting answers and finding how to navigate the system.”

Regardless of any challenges related to learning a new system, she says the move to online certification is important. “I see the biggest benefit being an integrated location for all operator information: files, emails, communications, uploads, reports. Everything—chronological and orderly!”

“Record management has been heading this way for decades,” says Cara. “And the benefits go beyond the certification bodies.”

“The ability to provide details about our industry to government and funding bodies will provide a stronger voice for organics. It is also important for ourselves to have an integrated, clear system to verify integrity of organics to our own members and within our industry.”

Looking ahead, Cara is anticipating the launch of a new feature in iCertify: a database of approved inputs that will become available this summer. This database will be managed under the COABC umbrella of certification bodies and will be accessible to COABC members.

“To be able to offer an ongoing list of approved inputs and products throughout the community and have it accessible to our producers will keep the knowledge flowing,” says Cara. “It will also streamline the time involved in verifying products that may have already been looked at by another certification body.”

“Pooling resources and building community is a strength of the BC Certified Organic Program that I am happy to support.”


Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Feature image: Cara Nunn building her new greenhouse. Credit: Maia Nunn

First Generation Farmers Find Ease with iCertify Renewal

in Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Spring 2020/Tools & Techniques

Amy Lobb & Calum Oliver, Makoha Farm

Corinne Impey

Makoha Farm is owned and operated by Amy and Calum, who began their farming journey in 2019 on 0.6 acres of leased land on Cordova Bay Ridge in Saanich, BC.At Makoha Farm, they want their love of good food to come across in what they grow: providing tasty, healthy, and top-quality produce. They grow a diversity of vegetable crops and have quickly fallen in love with growing flowers for cut arrangements.

Currently at the start of their second year of farming, Mahoka Farm is part of Haliburton Community Organic Farm, a certified organic incubator farm in Saanich, BC.

As they geared up for their 2020 organic renewal with Islands Organic Producers Association earlier this year, they were looking forward to trying iCertify, COABC’s new online organic certification system.

Amy with a harvest of leeks. Credit: Kristina Coleman

“iCertify was quite simple to use when it came time to do our renewal,” says Amy. “The webinar preview and in-person training sessions were helpful and informative and made the process undaunting. To be honest, I feel that even if I hadn’t done the initial training before starting my renewal I wouldn’t have had any issues.” In particular, Amy found the clear and simple layout easy to follow.

“Also, having the percentage complete bars for each section is a nice touch visually, quickly letting you know if you missed something or giving you peace of mind that you’re almost done.”

Amy looks forward to future renewals where the process will be even more streamlined now that everything lives in iCertify. “It will be interesting to see how everything goes during next year’s renewal,” says Amy. “It should save us time in the future, only needing to update information that may have changed for our operation and uploading our annual forms.”

Time saved doing administration work means more time spent focused on farming. For 2020, Makoha has launched their first flower CSA subscription, which includes a small veggie box add-on option.

“We can’t wait to share this with the community. As the season begins in this world of uncertainty, we’re also happy to be able to still provide the local community with food for their homes. No matter what happens, we will be here growing food and offering it to the public.”


Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Feature image: Amy and Calum of Makoha Farm. Credit: Amy Lobb

Why Nature’s Path Embraces Real Organic & Regenerative Organic

in 2020/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Soil/Spring 2020

Arran Stephens, Nature’s Path Founder, and Dag Falck, Nature’s Path Organic Programs Manager

Pioneer organic farmers were the visionaries of their age. Like many other inspired thinkers born before their time, they viewed the ordinary in extraordinary new ways, working quietly and diligently towards an alternate approach, often years or even decades before the general population awaken to the same realizations.

Consider the doctor who was fired from his job in 1847 for suggesting that surgeons wash their hands before operating on a patient. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis and his new “idea” of practicing basic sanitary procedures has saved millions and millions of lives.

At the center and core of Nature’s Path Foods is the goal of creating an agricultural system that aims towards healing the soil, land, water, air and all of us who rely on these essential and natural elements.

All around the world, people are waking up to the direct connection between how we farm locally and the massive collective impact this has on the stability of the global climate. This awareness has led to a will to do something about it. And we welcome the conversation on how we better reach that goal.

Around the time of the Industrial Revolution, humanity was excited with a “new form” of agriculture that increased yields and reduced backbreaking labor. It was clear that the invention of mechanical tools and chemicals that lent themselves to mass agricultural production of food and fiber was welcomed and celebrated worldwide.

At the same time, there was a handful of visionary individuals spread around the globe who had an awareness of a different sort. They observed how traditional agricultural practices had developed over thousands of years, being vital in support not only to people, but to all living things.

They saw the tiny organisms in the soil, the animals and people living above ground, all working together in cooperation in a way that provided calories and nourishment through the plants growing in the soil. This whole-system-approach is now recognized as having an intrinsic capacity for maintaining and perpetuating a complex balance where all parts co-exist in balance.

We call this system “nature,” which includes supporting the modulated climate on planet earth that makes our existence possible.

As if by some divine decree, this diverse core of individuals across the globe were awakening to this insight about the same time, being mostly unaware that others like themselves were all having the same revelations. The individuals and small groups inspired by this idea often felt isolated, and their efforts to reconnect with Nature as their role-model and teacher was certainly considered as going against the tide. In their experience, the system of cultivating the soil was not seen as having value, and these visionaries were often ridiculed as wanting to return to harsh and barbaric methods.

This was a key period in history where the concept of being “alternative” took hold. Carrying the torch for an idea not embraced by the mainstream society is a hard path with much struggle and little recognition. Especially in the early stages, visionaries are often exposed to ridicule and direct opposition from the mainstream way of doing things.

Imagine the frustration of Dr. Semmelweis, when he met resistance to something as simple as washing hands before surgical procedures. He clearly saw the death toll resulting from not doing so.
Fortunately for us, the visionaries who came before our time were provided with an extra dose of resiliency and energy that allowed them to keep going against all odds. They never gave up and they often did not receive any recognition in their own lifetimes. And the issues that they fought for didn’t see the light of day until generations later.

Organic farming is one of these alternatives.

The early organic farming pioneers bravely blazed the way forward. They lived and died believing in their vision, but never saw any real uptake on any large scale. Years later, organic agriculture started to grow as a movement, and with it, organic food and fiber became available around the world.

Even if organic agriculture is just a drop in the bucket compared to the growth of chemical and industrial monoculture, we have arrived at a moment where the pioneers of the organic movement and their vision for a healthy and truly sustainable way of agriculture are becoming recognized by an ever-growing segment of society. It can no longer be denied that our very survival as a species depends on shifting our current conventional agriculture model towards the kinds of organic practices that nurture and support nature’s wholistic system health. This is the birthing room that today’s Regenerative Agriculture movements have been born in.

Is Nature’s Path excited about regenerating agriculture? You bet!

Yet in the last few decades of false starts and opportunistic profiteering muddying the waters of the soil health movements, we’ve observed label claims like “natural” that have no proper definition, with no standards and no certification or oversight. This has confused consumers and provided a mockery of the soil health movements with deeply authentic goals to improve conditions for all life on earth. The organic movement has always been in front and center of this conversation.

Our highest hopes for the latest movement to hit the scene is that it will drive a sincere and intensely practical revolution for how we care for the thin crust around the earth that feeds all life here. Our thin layer of top soil, and the new movement recognizing its paramount importance has taken on the name of Regenerative Agriculture.

The three key concepts that gave rise to the recent iteration of the regenerative agriculture movement are that:

  • Soil which is nurtured to support a largely unseen microbial network will grow healthier plants,
  • The plants grown in healthy soil provide healthier nutrition for people and animals, and
  • The big “Aha!” realization is that this very same healthy soil actually sequesters enough carbon from the atmosphere to heal our catastrophic global climate disruption.

Nature’s Path Foods is deeply concerned over the disastrous effects of climatic change felt by people in most parts of the world, and vocal with our message that the problem of climate change must be recognized as the most critical issue of our age.

How amazing is our discovery that organic farmers indeed hold the knowledge to reverse a climate calamity? Nature’s perfect mechanism of photosynthesis can draw carbon down out of thin air, and lock it into living soil. By simply taking better care of the soil and nurturing the life that lives below our feet, we can contribute so importantly to the most existential crisis humanity has yet faced.

The life in our soil can hold much more carbon if we only treat it well and allow it to flourish instead of constantly applying practices that diminish its fertility and vitality.

At this point please allow us to make an introduction. Dear regenerative movement: Meet the organic movement.

We have a lot in common and could benefit from sharing ideas and best approaches. The organic movement brings decades of hands-on experience in carrying an unpopular torch and what it takes to keep it burning despite opposition from powerful vested interests.

Our common bond is capturing carbon to reverse climate crisis. Where the divergence happens is in the details of the plan to accomplish this.

There are two main challenges: One is that according to the latest science, there is very little time to make enough of an impact to actually affect the climate— so we need to be in a hurry by necessity. The other is that if the scale of adoption is not massive, then the outcomes won’t be big enough to make a difference.

Reaching large scales of adaption in a hurry is undeniably the key to success. We will even venture to guess that most people with a stake in one or more of the myriads of today’s regenerative initiatives are with us on this assessment so far—that we need to scale up in a hurry.

Here is the point where we face a wide divergence of approaches. Two key strategies to help reverse the climate crisis. If we are to rise above our respective positions in this massive puzzle to save soil, environment, climate and humanity, we will need to find ways to synchronize our efforts. The first logical step in addressing both speed and scale is to tap into everyone’s efforts at the same time.

Our conflict centers around these two opposing theories:

A) That carbon intensifying farming can be achieved by adding practices to any existing form of agricultural system today, including “conventional.” Versus;
B) That even with the best added practices, success cannot be achieved without also addressing the removal of those practices that have the most grievously detrimental effect on the life in the soil.

A is the conventional regenerative movement’s belief, and B is the organic belief. We have to be clear about this and not settle for a compromise where we say we promote carbon capture, while also allowing use of the methods that basically make that intent ineffective.

“Regenerative Agriculture” is easily co-opted and used as a form of greenwash and duplicity. Regenerative Organic agriculture does not employ fossil fuel-based synthetic fertilizer, toxic pesticides or GMOs, and agricultural practices cannot be labeled as Regenerative if they are harming people and polluting our planet.

We simply and clearly cannot call it Regenerative Agriculture by introducing a few time-honoured organic practices such as crop rotations, compost and ruminant pasturing into any practice that allows the use of toxic chemicals and GMOs.

Reaching scale quickly cannot be done with clever wording alone. The practices actually must have a positive effect on carbon capture.

We must directly address the applications of agrichemicals that are working counter to actual carbon capture and diligently weed out these practices, while requiring agricultural producers to add regenerative practices. Carbon intensifying farming cannot be achieved by adding practices to today’s conventional systems of heavy reliance on synthetic fossil fuel-based agrichemical inputs that kill the life in the soil, which is responsible for the capturing of carbon.

To meet the goal of scaling-up solutions to the climate crisis, we must evaluate which of two critical practices have the most detrimental effects on the life in the soil:

  1. Is it the practice of using agrichemicals on the soil to control weeds, disease, and fertility, with the consequences of negatively affecting soil life, or
  2. Is it the practice of tillage, which addresses weeds, disease, and fertility, but which may expose the soil to baking in the sun, eroding in rains, and the resulting loss of soil life?

We agree that tillage needs to be reduced and be carefully practiced with discretion. But even in its most extreme form, it is not thought to be anywhere near as detrimental as agrichemicals.

The fork in the road where we are standing today looks like this: The south fork is going along without confronting the status quo of industrial agriculture, while adding carbon-capturing practices. The north fork is confronting the status quo, and adding carbon-capturing practices.

As part of our commitment to continue raising food on a compromised planet, we all have to wrestle with these issues and decide which fork in the road we will follow. All we can offer is the suggestion that we all look clearly and dispassionately at the issues. For Nature’s Path, the north fork is the one we choose to take. In our assessment, chemicals have a strong detrimental effect on the ability of our topsoils to capture carbon and do not belong in a food production system in the first place.

Tillage can be moderated. Before agrichemicals, there was no alternative to tillage, and we refuse to believe we’re stuck with putting poisons on our food and fiber-producing fields in order to save our climate. Organic farmers have long proven that food can be produced without chemicals, using some tillage as a tool.

Our hope is that the diverse regenerative agricultural movements will seek to find existing systems that already embody the solutions we disparately need to implement, and deeply study the successes and challenges in these systems to see how they can be scaled up quickly.

Let’s take a closer look at historical examples where sustainable, regenerative practices have been employed over the ages. In Asian wet rice farming, abundant soil fertility has been consistently maintained, producing bountiful harvests on the same plots for over 2,000 years. The greatest input we can add to our farmlands is the wisdom of cultures around the world who have been growing organically for hundreds of generations before chemical agriculture was introduced in the 20th century.

Since the recent invention of “conventional agriculture”, we have been steadily eroding soil fertility and rapidly increasing the destruction of our natural environment— while decreasing the nutritional content of our food.

We should view and treat our soil as a bank containing the present and future wealth of nations. Instead of reinventing the wheel, let’s utilize the momentum already built by the worldwide organic agriculture movement. It has not yet reached the scale we need to solve the climate crisis, but there is no comparable system of agriculture that is as well defined and that has as much success to show.

Let us all join ranks with organic and make it the kind of movement that can change the world on a large scale. With your help, we can get past the tipping point and make the kinds of changes in our food system that we need to survive.

In the end, organic agriculture is really just good farming. It treats natural soil life, insects, animals, people, air, water and earth with integrity. Our support of the Real Organic Project is not a radical move— it’s simply a clear statement for the preservation of integrity in organic.

Together we offer the strong voice needed to stand up against the practices now tearing the fabric of the planet apart. And as the Real Organic Project continues to raise this voice in support of integrity in the face of well-entrenched and well-financed opposition, Nature’s Path hopes that it won’t stand down or give in.

Organic knows what it’s like to be a threat to the world economy’s largest interests. If healthy soil is the solution we need, then the chemicals that kill the life in the soil must be prohibited.

That’s doing, versus promising.


Pioneer, entrepreneur, artist and visionary, Arran Stephen’s organic legacy sprouted more than 50 years ago with just $7, a $1,500 loan and a dream. After opening the first vegetarian restaurant in Canada and the first organic cereal manufacturing facility, he is now leading future generations down a path of organic food and agriculture practices so we may all leave the Earth better than we found it. naturespath.com

Recognized as an expert in the organic industry, Dag Falck has served as Organic Program Manager for Nature’s Path Organic Foods since 2003. Prior to joining the company, he was an organic inspector for 14 years.

Biodynamic Farm Story: Unfinished Conversations

in 2020/Marketing/Organic Community/Spring 2020

Anna Helmer

At the recent COABC conference I enjoyed an unfinished conversation with a peerless organic industry leader about how certain words traditionally associated with our alternative/organic farming movement are being co-opted by mainstream agriculture. Case in point: General Mills using the word “regenerative” to describe some decidedly non-organic, chemically supported farming practices. Some consumers don’t give a hoot one way or another of course, but a certain segment really wants to do the right thing and have previously associated the word “regenerative” with good farming. Using that word is an obvious ruse intended to reassure a large conscientious consumer group: General Mills wants to keep their business.

The galling thing, as far as being an organic farmer goes, is that we might feel “regenerative” is our word. For starters, we used it first; furthermore, we practice it; bottom line, we believe in it. We are using it to heal the earth. General Mills is using it to sell more sugar-cereal. It’s quite irritating.

And what are we to do about it? Cue the unfinished conversation.

Well, we can keep talking about it, amongst ourselves and in our marketplaces. Preaching to the choir ensures that everyone is on the same page, singing the same song. Very important that, but pretty much paves the way if not to rebellion, then certainly outbursts of inappropriate and/or unwelcome individuality, complicating the issue.

Private enterprise has thusly spawned several certifiers, with standards ranging from whimsical to fanatical, offering farms a chance to formalize their relationship with the word. This will remind the older set of the early years of the organic business and send shivers down a few spines.

The next obvious thing is to fight for it at the government level. Get some public policy developed around it. Some standards. We could be fighting for the use of that word like we have for “organic”.

Basically, the fight for “organic” is far from over and it’s not yet clear who is winning, despite all the hard campaigning. I think you can still have the word “organic” in your farm name even without certification. We are very lucky to have people fighting for this word and they do not need the burden of another word. Allow them to focus.

It is possible, left to their own devices whilst organic gets sorted, that these big companies will publicly stumble over the banana peels they will find littering the road to “regenerative” and all the rest of those words: “natural,” “whole grain,” “plant-based,” and of course “sustainable.” A lot of consumers are not stupid and will recognize marketing when they see it; and having done so, won’t buy it. Our fingers are crossed.

It’s a difficult conversation to complete, isn’t it?

Complete it I will, however, by simply moving on to another topic. And this one is affecting me very directly.

Any produce market vendor who understands retail will tell you that the surest way to sell something is to whack it into a plastic bag and put a price sticker on it. Just today at market, one of my staff spent the entire four hours making tidy little plastic bags of potatoes. Probably about 70% of sales today came from $6 bags of Sieglinde potatoes.

These are the bags the Vancouver Farmers’ Market management wants to ban. I have been moaning about this coming ban to anyone who would listen (and some who would not) for months now. And I will just stop you there as you come up with suggestions on how to replace them. You can’t replace them. It’s plastic: it doesn’t break down and there is no replacement.

Plastic is amazing. It has changed our lives in dramatic and important and lasting ways.

Unless I hear a little more celebration of plastic, I am not going down without a fight.


Anna Helmer farms in Pemberton where there are a surprising number of rules, policies, and standards for such a population of keenly individualistic farmers.

 

iCertify, COABC’s Online Organic Certification System, is now live

in COABC Blog

After much hard work and contributions from many COABC members, we are excited to announce that iCertify, COABC’s new online organic certification system, is now live!

Designed to support organic operators and certifiers in BC, iCertify is an innovative province-wide online tool for organic certification. This user-friendly, secure online system streamlines the organic certification process, making it easier to apply for a new certification or submit an annual renewal.

A true team effort involving operators, verification officers, certification committee members, administrators, and COABC board and team members from across the province, a big thanks is due to everyone who has contributed to this project over the last few years!

To learn more about iCertify, please visit: certifiedorganic.bc.ca/icertify

Interested in using iCertify for your renewal or certification? Please contact your local certification body directly.

Looking for support using iCertify? Check out our training library: certifiedorganic.bc.ca/icertify/helplibrary.php

Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Standards Review: Behind the Scenes

in 2020/Livestock/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Winter 2020

Tristan Banwell

How did I come to be involved in the 2020 Review of the Canadian Organic Standards from my organic outpost near little old Lillooet? Well, Anne Macey talked me into it, of course. By email. She’s very charming and persuasive, even in text.

I am glad she did recruit me, because I now realize how important the process is. I have also become very familiar with the livestock standards, and I have heard the perspectives of producers from many regions of Canada and all scales of production. It was eye-opening and rewarding (and time-consuming!). I have a deep appreciation and respect for the people at the Organic Federation of Canada who made this process happen. A lot of hard work and organizing goes into this process, and a lot depends on us, the volunteers on the Working Groups.

It’s my turn to talk you into getting involved, or at least convince you to read Rebecca Kneen’s article all the way through so that you know what is going on.

Throughout 2018 and 2019, I volunteered on the Livestock Working Group, and sat on smaller groups called Task Forces for Poultry, Swine, and Ruminants. Many of the participants are producers, some large and some small. Others are inspectors, consultants, agronomists, veterinarians, or employees of various organizations, like the SPCA (or COABC!). I was surprised to find there are also industry group representatives participating on behalf of their constituents, such as the Chicken Farmers of Canada and Egg Farmers of Canada.

Each of the Livestock Task Force groups included 8 to 20 individuals, while the Livestock Working Group was comprised of 40 to 60 people. Meetings were two to three hours long by teleconference, with participation on Google Drive for document review and collaborative editing. The Working Group met monthly from September 2018 to April 2019, and again in the winter of 2019/20 to complete the process. Task Forces met an average of three times.

New Task Forces cropped up within the Livestock Working Group to deal with petitions related to Apiculture, Bison, and Rabbits. Members of our working group were also recruited to advise the Genetically Engineered (GE) Task Force, and invited to join the Social Fairness Task Force. Sometimes a petition for another Working Group would come across to Livestock for comment, or seeking the answer to a specific question. But primarily, we got down to work reviewing petitions for changes to the Standards with regard to swine, ruminants, and poultry.

Often, especially when a petition was unrealistic to implement or perceived to weaken the Standards, the groups could quickly reach consensus with a recommendation. I came to appreciate the flexibility of the Standards to apply in so many different contexts, while ensuring a basic set of principles is respected. It is easier to understand the complexity of the Standards when you realize that they are built and revised one particular circumstance at a time.

We also navigated many controversial conversations. What one participant may view as strengthening the Standards may be seen by another as a meaningless change leading to unnecessary expense. Dedicated volunteers gathered and shared research to support their positions and worked over wording repeatedly to solve disagreements. Consensus was sometimes difficult to reach, sometimes impossible. At times, a voting block would solidify and no proposal offered could progress. This was frustrating, but the system is designed to move discussions forward regardless: if a Task Force cannot make a recommendation, the topic goes back to the Livestock Working Group for further consideration. If that still does not help, it’s back to the Technical Committee.

After suggested changes go out for public review over the summer, the comments come back to the Working Groups. We must address all comments. In the case of Poultry, so many comments came back that the conveners further divided the Poultry Task Force into a small and nimble committee that could make recommendations that then returned to the larger group. In the end, our recommended changes to the Canadian Organic Standard will go up to the Technical Committee, who can then accept, revise, or reject the changes. This group will consider not only the recommendation but also the context, and if a topic was highly controversial or many negative comments are received, they should take that into consideration.

I am interested to see how our hard work influences the Canadian Organic Standard, and I know that when the process comes around again, I will step up and put in the time to make my voice heard. I hope that you will too.


Tristan Banwell is a founding director of both the BC Small-Scale Meat Producers Association and the Lillooet Agriculture & Food Society, and represents NOOA on the COABC Board. In his spare time, he manages Spray Creek Ranch in Lillooet, operating a Class D abattoir and direct marketing organic beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs. farmer@spraycreek.ca

Organic Standards: The Process and the Principles

in 2020/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Winter 2020

Rebecca Kneen, BC board representative to the Organic Federation of Canada

Once upon a time, we in BC wrote our own organic standards. Those of us with the inclination got together regularly to figure out the problems and decide how best to address them while staying true to our principles. Every year, at the COABC conference, we’d debate all the proposed changes to the standards. Some of us will never forget the epic eight-hour discussions we had about treated posts, and the many-year discussions on poultry standards!

It was a tremendous group effort, and a huge amount of thought and work went into it—and it created the bonds which still hold COABC together. 

In 2009, after long discussion throughout the organic community, we collectively decided that a national organic standard was necessary. More and more products labelled as “organic” were coming into Canada, with no verification as to their actual quality or how it would compare to our own standards. Even within Canada, most provinces lacked their own certification regulations. The goal was to create a robust, thoughtful, and ethical standard which could be used to improve the quality and scope of organic production within Canada, and a measurement to accept or reject incoming goods as equivalent organic quality. The BC and Quebec standards formed the basis of the current rules—and the system has been evolving ever since, as techniques, resources, and markets have changed.

Most of us are concerned about the standards themselves—the rules about what, how much, how often. We refer to them when we are looking at such things as a new process, crop input, sanitizer or cleaner, or when we are designing a new livestock barn. We check them right after our annual inspection, when the Verification Officer (VO) references a particular section and we need to understand it. Sometimes we read the Q&A when the E-News comes out and we realize that there might be something that affects our farm. What we mostly DON’T do is think about how these standards are created and who’s involved—unless we think a new decision is wrong. In order to understand why certain decisions are made, we need to understand the structure, membership, and pressures in the organic system.

So, who is it that is looking after the standards? What pressures do they operate under, who’s the boss, and how do we make sure that our standards embody the ethics and values that created the organic idea in the first place? This is where we get to play the acronym game.

The Canada Organic Regime (COR) is the system of organic certification. It has two parts: enforcement and regulation. The entire system is part of the “Safe Food for Canadians” act, and is enforced by (in descending order): the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the Conformity Verification Bodies (CVB) like COABC’s Accreditation Board, and finally Certifying Bodies (members of COABC such as NOOA, FVOPA or the for-profit CBs such as Eco-Cert). The regulations apply to any product that moves between provinces or internationally that carries the COR logo.

The Canadian Organic Standards themselves are owned by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) which makes the rules about how frequently the standards must be updated and the process used. The CFIA establishes organic equivalency agreements with other countries (Japan, USA, EU, Switzerland, Costa Rica). The Standards are owned by a government agency but reviewed every five years in collaboration with the organic industry. CGSB staff are not knowledgeable about organic agriculture; they only verify the review process and have nothing to do with the content.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road for most of us: the standards writing and review process. The top level of this process is the Standards Interpretation Committee (SIC). 

The CFIA created the SIC to resolve conflicts between CBs and producers. The SIC is made up of appointed members from across the organic sector and is managed by the Organic Federation of Canada (OFC). You will have seen the many lists of questions put to the SIC: the answers published on the OFC website are legally enforceable. CBs and producers have to comply with SIC decisions, as per the CFIA Operating Manual. The OFC ensures that SIC members have the required expertise and deep knowledge of a variety of areas of organic agriculture and processing, and provides guidance to the SIC.

The CGSB appoints its own Technical Committee, also made up of industry experts, but in this case,  they are selected by the CGSB not by the OFC. This committee has the power to modify the standards, whereas the SIC can only clarify the meaning of the standards. The Technical Committee analyzes recommendations from the SIC and the OFC Working Groups or the public when an amendment or a full review of the standards is launched.

The OFC working groups are made up of volunteers from across the country with expertise in specific areas. There are working groups for livestock, specific crops, and so on. Petitions for changes to the standards are received by the OFC, then brought to the various working groups for discussion, research, and recommendation. The working groups have up to 20 members, all participating in the entire process of reviewing questions and petitions for changes. They are able to do their own research and to share information widely. This is not a secret process!

In previous standards reviews, proposals have been received on a huge range of issues. As an example of how the working group works, one proposal received in the last round requested that the use of non-organic manure be prohibited, another that manure from non-organic sources including confined livestock or stock kept in the dark be permitted. In the first case, the proposal was rejected because there is a large deficit in the supply of organic manure, and such a restriction would create a huge barrier to organic production. In the second case, the proposal was also rejected on the grounds that the petition would weaken the standards and erode public confidence.

There are many areas where this process can be influenced in any direction. The membership of the working groups, technical committee, and SIC itself can be manipulated (intentionally or not). How questions are grouped for presentation to the working groups, and which resources are used will influence the outcome. 

The OFC is serious about upholding organic values and principles. In soliciting members for the working groups, we aim for skilful, balanced representation with people whose interests go beyond short-term financial gain. We try to balance technical expertise with breadth of experience, large and small producers, cross-country representation, and commitment to organic principles. 

There is a lot of pressure on all parts of the organic industry to allow more money to be made, to loosen regulations so that they are “more accessible”, and to allow foreign influence on our standards. The recent move by the USA to push for Canada to include hydroponics in the organic standards is one example. In this case, the OFC, Canada Organic Growers (COG) and the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) collectively repudiated this move (see the excerpted letter in this issue of the BCOG). We’re also seeing livestock standards pressured to allow more confinement and less outdoor access, and crop standards pushed to allow indoor growing without natural sunlight.

The three national industry groups (OFC, COG, and COTA) are working together to find more ways to inextricably embed our principles into the entire regulation and the processes for amendment. 

What this really needs is support from our membership: from you. We need more people to volunteer for the working groups and the CGSB Technical Committees. We need you to put your expertise and ethics to work for the whole community. You don’t need to be a world-renowned expert, you just need to want to work, learn and do a lot of reading and talking. Most of all, you need to want to support the community that supports you. 

Contact Nicole at the Organic Federation of Canada to find out how to volunteer for any of these committees: nicole.boudreau@organicfederation.ca

Read more:

Organic Federation of Canada

Canadian Organic Growers

Canada Organic Trade Association


Rebecca’s parents led her down the sheep track to food sovereignty and food systems analysis through their Ram’s Horn magazine and Brewster’s many books. She farms and brews in Secwepemc Territory at Left Fields/Crannóg Ales and is COABC’s representative to the Organic Federation of Canada.


Re: Official position of the Canadian Organic sector on Hydroponics being considered in organic 

Excerpts from the full letter:

“We stand united and unequivocally reject the allowance of hydroponics by the Canada Organic Regime (COR) for sale in Canada and for export to other trading partners. The very notion of being asked to articulate why hydroponics is banned from COR is similar to being asked why we would ban synthetic pesticides, genetically engineered seeds and have built humane treatment of animals into the organic standards.

The global definition of organic (despite the USA’s National Organic Program recent ruling permitting hydroponics) prohibits hydroponics. In fact, there is a court hearing challenging the NOP’s permittance of hydroponics currently in the US court system as the USDA’s allowance of hydroponics is a fundamental shift away from the global norms of what is defined as organic. We fully support and stand behind the organic sector in the USA who is challenging the NOP/USDA for allowing this egregious act. 

The organic sector is a $5.4 billion market in Canada, with over a billion in export sales worldwide. The USA’s NOP hydroponic products are banned from all export sales due to not meeting international standards. We stand united in that we do not want any US hydroponically produced products entering Canada and lowering the public trust that we have worked to establish in Canada. We also do not accept or support the Canadian Horticulture Canada (CHC) and the Ontario Greenhouse Growers position that there is a trade harmonization concern. 

Our Canadian organic standards and US-Canada Equivalency Arrangement is absolutely clear that operators must adhere to Canadian standards and respect the details of the equivalency arrangement. The system has been set up banning hydroponics since 2009, calling out critical variances in our US- Canada Equivalency arrangement. It is of utmost concern if the Government of Canada wishes to alter the established organic standards and trade arrangement details that the organic sector has been functioning under (and strongly support). Amending the Canadian organic standard (or other mechanisms available to government) to permit organics to be produced through hydroponic methods would not only damage the trust and reputation of the Canadian organic label, but also override the research and decision reached by the Organic Agriculture Technical Committee. Any changes to current practises made without the consensus of the Technical Committee would be a breach of the consensual principles embedded in the policies and procedures of the Canadian General Standard Board. 

Our concern is that we risk retaining our respected global position in the organic marketplace and that significant trading partners, such as EU, Japan, Switzerland, would need to alter the equivalency arrangements we have with these markets should hydroponics in the organic system be permitted under any circumstances in Canada. With the court case ongoing in the USA, we certainly feel it would be detrimental to our sector to allow CHC’s argument of not being able to access the US market opportunity as a worthwhile argument to alter the standards/trade arrangement or create any policies which would change the current practise of banning all hydroponics under the COR. We support the horticulture sector accessing the US market with their conventionally grown produce but we diametrically oppose their position of trying to drag the Canadian organic sectors reputation down to the US’s “lowest common denominator” which is globally rejected and may be overturned through a court process. There is no other country in the world that permits hydroponics in their organic programs and it would be a fatal error to move in this direction for the sake of an opportunistic market opportunity.”

More reading: 

foodsafetynews.com/2019/02/organic-industry-is-not-giving-hydroponic-growers-a-warm-embrace

centerforfoodsafety.org/files/1_16_19_cfs-hydroponics-petition_final_11376.pdf 

Go to Top