The Canada Organic Trade Association’s (COTA) recent publication, The State of Organics: Federal-Provincial-Territorial Performance Report 2017, provides a comprehensive and interesting read about the current level of development of the organic sector in each province. Its goal is clear and succinct – to stimulate greater government support for certified organic products.
The report catalogs and analyzes organic policy frameworks across various levels of government regarding regulation and enforcement, production and market supports, and data collection.
Perhaps its most important revelation is that there are significant gaps in organic regulations in some jurisdictions.
Quebec has its regulations. Manitoba, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have adopted national organic regulations set forth by the federal government in 2009.
The rest of the provinces and territories, including Ontario, which is the largest organic market in Canada, do not have any regulation at all. This patchwork of regulations makes it difficult to regulate intra-provincial organic claims.
The government of Canada receives kudos for its commitment to strengthening the domestic organic market through a national consumer campaign and support for organic export development.
The report singles out Quebec for praise, noting that it leads the way in government commitment to the sector, with sound support systems in place and demonstrated assistance through organic production, market support, and data collection. Provincial regulations are rigorously enforced with public databases. Quebec is the first in Canada in government programming and financing for the organic sector. Farmers are encouraged to transition to organic production, and the province offers additional supports related to extension, crop insurance, and research.
Manitoba did well in several categories and was second in overall scoring. The province adopted the Organic Agricultural Products Act and associated regulations in 2013 and uses federally accredited certification bodies to ensure compliance. The Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation’s Organic Insurance Program offers insurance for all the main field crops.
Meanwhile, British Columbia has strong market and production supports in place. The province has a long history of organic farming and consumption, and its voluntary standards, introduced in 1993, will become mandatory in 2018.
Alberta has a significant agricultural marketing program which organic producers access, but little transition support or extension. There are ongoing discussions concerning crop insurance programs and regulations which would strengthen organic assistance.
Saskatchewan scores well for initiatives such as The Prairie Organic Development Fund, the Organic Connections Conference and Trade Show, and its organic crop insurance program. The province does not have any organic regulations.
Remarkably Ontario, the largest organic market in the country does not have a provincial standard, which impacts its ability to ensure the integrity of organic products.
There is no dedicated funding for organic growers; producers have the same access to the general funding programs available to all farmers in the province. Crop insurance for organic producers is available, though they are not visible or well-subscribed.
The Organic Council of Ontario is planning to announce a private member's bill on September 13, that would enact legislation for organic regulation in the province.
"The State of Organics report demonstrates how disjointed and inconsistent our agri-food policies and programs are in Canada,” said Tom Manley, President, and Chair of the OCO, in a statement provided to OWN.
“There is an unequal playing field for organic agriculture and food businesses even within our own country. We hope the national food policy will help us balance out these inconsistencies to plan for the future of our food system as a nation."
The council notes that retail sales in Ontario are $1.4 billion, but less than two per cent of agriculture is under organic production.
In 2015, there were 770 certified organic producers and 375 processors.
And while 19 per cent of Canada’s organic producers operate in Ontario, 25 per cent of all farming in the country is done here.
Ontario’s total number of producers will increase by just over three per cent in the next few years, according to the council. By comparison, Quebec and B.C. will increase their primary organic producers by about 10 per cent, and Atlantic Canada’s number will grow by about 18 per cent.
Finally, Ontario is home to almost one-quarter of all the organic processors, handlers, and retailers in Canada, second only to Quebec, whose promotion of organic business has encouraged a whopping 45 per cent of all of Canada’s organic processors to set up shop there.
“The lack of intra-provincial regulation can increase the instance of fraud, undermining the value of the Canadian organic brand. Certification is costly, so in Ontario, where certification is voluntary, producers who choose to certify are at a disadvantage to those marketing their goods as organic without certifying,” said Lauren Martin, Manager of Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs for the Canada Organic Trade Association in a statement to OWN.
Meanwhile, small markets characterize the Atlantic provinces, but the area does have an active network of organic operations and organizations.
New Brunswick adopted organic regulations in 2014 and has developed a comprehensive strategic plan, as well as government programming for the organic sector.
Nova Scotia passed provincial organic regulations in 2015 but has faced jurisdictional delays in implementing an enforcement system.
Prince Edward Island has government programming for organic production in place and offers financial support for organic activities through its Organic Industry Development Program.
COTA’s The State of Organics Federal-Provincial-Territorial Report 2017 provides a set of recommendations for areas of focus to support organic development:
1) ensure that each province and territory adopts its organic regulations;
2) expand organic data collection systems;
3) increase organic-specific policies and programs across jurisdictions;
COTA’s report notes that the Canada organic brand is an asset to the Government of Canada, and will be an increasingly important component of the Canadian economy and agriculture.
“We hope that government takes note of the public attention the report has received as an indication of how important organics are to consumers and responds by addressing some of the gaps highlighted,” Martin said.
Canada has the fifth-largest organic market in the world but faces international competition. Government support will help make Canada a leader in this important and sustainable agricultural sector. Future annual reports will monitor progress and highlight successes, year-to-year.