From FCC Express
By Owen Roberts
Organic producers are calling for new measures to promote uniform standards across the country, to advance the sector and compete against imports.
In a new report, The State of Organics: Federal-Provincial-Territorial Performance Report 2017, the Organic Council of Canada says a lack of uniformity is hurting Canadian producers.
Imports with an advantage
In particular, it says inconsistent organic standards across provinces gives organic imports a leg up, and stymies organic production here.
“Limited and unequal” support for organic agriculture across the country has put Canadian organic businesses at “a serious disadvantage,” it says.
The council wants provinces to regulate the term organic and adopt the Canadian organic standards approved by the federal government seven years ago. Only four provinces have done so – British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Quebec, the country’s leader in organic production, created its own standards before the national standards were created. Quebec has since adopted the federal standards.
Ontario, the province with the biggest organic consumer base, has not adopted national standards. Any organic products that are traded solely within the province can use the word organic without certifying.
Carolyn Young, lead consultant with the Organic Council of Ontario, is hoping that will change.
“We are seeking an Ontario regulation that would adopt the federal standards but also create a provincial program to support small-scale producers,” she says.
Many believe disparities in organic legislation are holding the sector back. Production in Canada is lagging; despite steady consumer demands, just one to two per cent of Canadian farm production is organic.
Compare that to Europe, where several countries have national organic plans and the Common Agricultural Policy helps fund transition from conventional to organic.
For example, France, which already has 4.5 per cent of its farms in organic production, has plans to raise that figure to 10 per cent by 2021. France has seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of organic operations in the past five years, with land in organic production growing to 1.5 million hectares, a 50 per cent increase.
Likewise, the United States, where about four per cent of the total acreage is organic, a national effort encourages transition, provides organic extension and funds standards maintenance.
In Canada, industry pays for its own updates in standards.
Ontario organic council president and family farmer Tom Manley says uneven standards between provinces lead to a lack of consumer confidence. People can’t be sure what constitutes organic from border to border, he says.
“Consumers are confused by unverified organic claims,” he says. “And conventional farmers who might want to switch over to organic production are reluctant to do so, as long as regulatory confusion remains.”
The national report states uniform programs across the country could help Canada’s organic industry grow.