By John Greig
A Private Members’ Bill to be introduced in the Ontario legislature intends to bring the province’s organic sector into line with much of the rest of the country.
Two opposition members of provincial parliament (MPPs) from opposite ends of the political spectrum, are teaming up to sponsor the bill, called the Organic Products Act.
Peter Tabuns, MPP for Toronto-Danforth (NDP), and Sylvia Jones, MPP for Dufferin-Caledon (PC) are jointly sponsoring the act, which aims to create Ontario-specific regulations governing organic products.
Organic production is currently unregulated in Ontario, unless the products carry the Canada Organic logo or are exported outside of the province. That means there are few teeth to maintain the integrity of organic production, other than farms which are certified by an organic inspector and can make that claim. Five other provinces, the other large producers of organic production, such as Quebec and British Columbia, have their own regulations.
A Canadian Organic Trade Association report released earlier this summer, singled out Ontario – the largest market for organic products in Canada – as lacking the regulations necessary for the market to develop further, and to protect those who are following organic rules.
Federal standards were adopted in 2009, and like many other provinces, Ontario could simply adopt them, but it has not. The proposed Organic Products Act would require anyone claiming to be producing or selling a product labelled ‘organic’ to have organic certification.
This bill is meant to be the start of a dialogue that leads to a made-in-Ontario solution. – Carolyn Young
Organic Council of Ontario President Tom Manley says that the regulations would help Ontario organic producers to meet the $1.4 billion market demand in the province with more local product.
“Provincial regulation would protect businesses that already certify, and provide an opportunity for Ontario to support increased production so we can meet more of that demand right here at home,” he says.
A goal of the act is the bring the many farmers who produce ‘organically’ into the certified organic fold. It is especially challenging for small scale farmers to afford the certification process, especially while producing for three years using organic methods while not receiving organic premiums.
“We know there are many honest, hard-working organic farmers in Ontario who don’t certify. This bill is meant to be the start of a dialogue that leads to a made-in-Ontario solution,” says Organic Council Executive Director, Carolyn Young. “This would include adopting the federal standards, but also exploring more options for small-scale.”
The proposed Organic Products Act is based on Manitoba’s Organic Agricultural Products Act. The penalties are significant at $20,000 for a first offence for an individual and $50,000 for a first offence for a corporation.
Jones says she hopes that the introduction of the Act will be the start of a conversation among farmers and industry stakeholders that will result in an Act that aligns with other provinces and the national standards.
Private Members’ Bills rarely make it into law, unless they find government support.