What we hear on the ground

We live in the province with the largest market for organics in Canada and yet one where anyone can call their produce organic regardless of how it is produced.

Why do some Ontario farmers follow organic principles, in large part at least, and call their product organic, but resist becoming certified organic? The short answer is: because it is allowed.

But there are a number of other practical reasons that are frequently given. Here are some of them, along with a few suggestions for overcoming the resistance to certified organic:

I don’t have enough information to know what is involved in certification.

Talk to a neighbouring farmer who is certified. Canadian Organic Growers (COG) also provides lots of information and guides to support growers during the transition period.

It costs too much every year.

Yes, there is an annual fee, but it is proportionate to the volume being certified – less for smaller operations.

I can’t run the risk of having lower yields and lower income if I follow all the organic rules.

Yields may be lower during the first few years, but will approach conventional yields over time as producer skills and soil health improve. And since organic product prices tend to be higher and the costs of inputs lower in a well-managed system, your net income can be higher after conversion to organic.

Since I can’t honestly sell my product as certified organic during the three-year transition period, I will lose money.

This is a challenge. Some help may be available from government, product purchasers or supporting organizations such as COG. The Canadian Organic Standards also allow for transition one step at a time – not the whole farm. Many farmers start with one field and grow from there.

If I sell in a farmers’ market, how can I charge more than my non-organic competitors?

Follow the pricing lead of other certified growers in the market. If you have a group of faithful customers, explain that you are transitioning to certified organic and will be charging a little more. Organize farm visits to educate your customers.

My customers trust me and don’t require that I become certified.

With organic certification regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), you can tell your customers that they do not have to trust your word. Certified organic is verified by accredited third party certifiers who inspect the farm and are themselves audited by third parties on behalf of the CFIA. Once certified, you can use the Canadian Organic logo, owned by the Government of Canada and widely recognised by consumers.

Since there is no legislation in Ontario that requires certification if products are labelled/sold as organic, and since I don’t sell across provincial borders, I will continue to call my products organic without getting certified.

For years the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO) has been pursuing Ontario organic regulation that would define the term organic for products produced and sold solely within Ontario. According to OCO’s Communication and Membership Manager Stuart Oke, “consultation with the sector and a most recent survey further reinforced the overwhelming support for organic regulation in Ontario and a strong desire to have any Ontario organic regulation be harmonized with the federal standard currently in place.”

The Government of Ontario is currently considering the passage of ‘The Organic Products Act’ (Bill 54), an important piece of legislation that would regulate the use of the term organic for products solely produced and sold within Ontario or that do not bear the Canada Organic Logo (OCO website).

Regarding this legislation, Oke noted: “If successful this would allow Ontario to join BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick in adopting the Canadian Organic Standards as their provincial Organic Standard, creating a more level playing field for organic operators in Canada, increasing public trust in organic certification and closing legal loopholes and grey areas that allow for fraud.”

Quite apart from this legislation, as more consumers insist on certified organic products, more farmers will find a way to overcome their resistance to certification. Refer anyone with questions to COG’s website www.cog.ca.

— Eric Payseur and Lloyd Strachan

Why Do Some Ontario Farmers Claiming Organic Not Certify?