Federal government pledges funds for organic standards review

Paddy Doherty/Co-Chair – Organic Valuechain Roundtable, Nicole Boudreau/Coordinator – Organic Federation of Canada, Tia Loftsgard/Executive Director – Canada Organic Trade Association, Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay, Member of Parliament Lloyd Longfield (Guelph), Ashley St. Hilaire/Director of Programs and Government Relations – Canadian Organic Growers – after the announcement at the University of Guelph. Photo: Supplied/Canadian Organic Growers

AGCanada.com – A review and update of Canada’s organic standards for compliance with international norms will get federal funding to make sure it’s complete by its 2020 deadline.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay on Friday announced the government will foot the “necessary funds” to the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) to cover the cost of the 2020 Canadian Organic Standards review.

The CGSB will get $250,000 over the next three years to cover those costs — an amount the government said it reached in discussions with the CGSB to “streamline the process of updating the standards.”

However, the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA), in a separate release Friday, said the review process is estimated to cost about $550,000, for which COTA said it will “explor(e) various options with government” to cover the balance.

If Canada is to stay competitive in this crucial industry, the Liberal government must follow suit. – Elizabeth May

The Organic Standards review must be done every five years, the government said, to make sure agreed-upon organic production methodologies “reflect current practices and technological advancements being employed by the organic industry.”

Food, feed and seed labelled as organic in Canada are required by law to be certified to the Canadian Organic Standards, for import, export and interprovincial trade, and for the use of the Canada Organic logo at retail.

“Canadian organic farmers and food processors are producing a quality product that consumers in Canada and around the world demand,” MacAulay said Friday in Guelph.

“Finding a solution to updating the Canadian Organic Standards is a key part of that, since they ensure our organics are recognized internationally for their quality.”

Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay making the announcement at the Guelph Organic Conference. Photo: Supplied/Canadian Organic Growers

According to COTA, the Canadian Organic Standards were drafted in 2006 and became regulation in 2009, as international trading partners threatened to ban organic goods from Canada if a federal organic regulation wasn’t put in place, “despite organic practices and standards being in existence for many years prior under a voluntary system.”

The Canadian government worked with industry and the Canadian General Standards Board of Canada to ensure that Canada’s Organic Standards would be accepted by Canada’s key trade partners, namely the European Union, Japan and the USA and compliant with ISO criteria.

The CGSB — the standards development and “conformity assessment” arm of Canada’s federal Public Services and Procurement department — worked with industry and government to make sure the Organic Standards would be ISO-compliant and accepted by trading partners including the U.S., European Union and Japan, COTA said.

‘Heavily burdened’

Originally, COTA said, the cost of the 2020 Organic Standards review had been pegged at $1 million, based on the total cost of the 2015 review.

However, COTA said, the 2020 review is “not expected to be as extensive as prior reviews and can employ other process efficiencies like virtual meetings,” bringing the expected cost down to $550,000.

The federal Green Party had pressed the government as recently as Wednesday to put up funding for the review, noting trading partners such as the U.S. already provide funding for their countries’ organic standards reviews.

“If Canada is to stay competitive in this crucial industry, the Liberal government must follow suit,” Green leader Elizabeth May said Wednesday in a release, noting the Commons standing committee on agriculture had recommended government funding for the review.

“Organic farms and businesses have been heavily burdened with paying for the review of their sector’s industry standards, while other federal departments — from Fisheries and Oceans to Transport — relieve the industries under their purview from this financial obligation,” Kate Storey, the Greens’ ag critic, said in the same release.

MacAulay on Friday also announced $95,114 for COTA through the AgriMarketing program, toward its international market development strategy, along with $72,500 for Canadian Organic Growers to develop a “user-friendly” guide to the Canadian Organic Standards.

“This guide will provide organic producers, processors, handlers and manufacturers in Canada as well as those wishing to enter it, a clear understanding of what is required to become a certified organic producer in Canada,” the government said Friday.