An image backed by regulations
By Allison Finnamore
Canada’s organic food industry is facing every businessperson’s dream: exploding popularity creating a demand too great to be filled. And, with the recent implementation of federal laws regulating the industry, new standards are in place to ensure quality and to back up labelling claims on organic foods.
The Organic Products Regulations came into effect in December 2006.The regulations prevent deceptive and misleading use of the organic claim. Only products grown and processed in compliance with the Canadian organic standard will be authorized to carry the newly introduced Canada Organic label. Processed organic foods must contain at least 95 per cent organic ingredients to qualify for certification. The regulations will be phased in over the next two years, after which all organic products for interprovincial and international trade must be labelled as Canada Organic.
Laura Telford is executive director of Canadian Organic Growers. She says the regulations bring authenticity to organic foods and will help build consumer confidence.
“We wanted to add government legitimacy so consumers understand organics,” she says.
Not that consumers need much encouragement. Telford says organic production increases an average of four per cent a year, while the demand increases 20 per cent. Canada’s organic food market is valued at about $1 billion. The retail industry has certainly taken notice and is anxious to capture some of those consumer dollars.
“There’s a huge mismatch between supply and demand,” Telford says. “The gap is filled in with imports.” In fact, she adds, about 80 per cent of the organic food Canadian consumers buy is imported.
At the same time the domestic organic producers sought standardization, export markets were looking for the same. Canada is the 40th country to implement organic regulations, prompted by the European Union who set December 2006 as the deadline for standardization. If we had missed the deadline, the EU claims trade would have ended.
Telford says an increasing number of producers are switching to organic production and new entrants are also making their way into the sector – all seeking to capture some of the growing demand for organic foods.
It’s exciting to hear about expansion and growth in any agriculture sector, but the organic industry faces some challenges. Organic growers believe in sustainable agriculture based on long-term ecologically and environmentally sound practices. Having the majority of the domestic market serviced by imports that have travelled hundreds if not thousands of kilometres does not fit with the philosophy or the image. Big box retailers marketing organic food is also a concern to some growers.
Yet the more organic foods are in stores, the more consumer awareness will increase. That should be a good thing, but the industry is going to have to find the balance between philosophies and the bottom line.
Want to learn more about organics?
Here are a few places to start:
The Government of Canada’s Organic Products Regulations are available online. Go to http://canadagazette.gc.ca/partII/2006/20061221-x6/html/extra-e.html to read them.
For education and networking, visit the Canadian Organic Growers website at http://www.cog.ca/ or phone them at
The Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada has information about the science and practice of organics, as well as market information. Visit their website at http://www.organicagcentre.ca/index_e.asp or phone them at
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