Ottawa to Weed out False Organic Food Claims

13 Feb 2012, by Dr. Marnie Wachtler in Health Information

Standards take effect on June 30

The federal government on Friday unveiled new mandatory standards for organic foods and enforcement tools so inspectors can keep products falsely claiming to be organic off store shelves.

The mandatory regulation and certification of organic products, to come into force on June 30, were immediately praised by the industry.

“It’s a consumer’s dream. When they see an organic claim out in the marketplace, it has a very strict definition, the government is behind it, and everybody is meeting the same standards,” said Matthew Holmes, managing director of the Organic Trade Association in Canada, representing players in the entire supply chain from producers to retailers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency also unveiled a new logo that will be the new face of the Canada Organic Regime. The new standards took more than a decade to develop, during which time the popularity of organic foods in Canada grew about 20 per cent annually as health and environmentally conscious consumers sought out healthier and greener options.

Ann Clark, professor of plant agriculture and specialist in organic farming at the University of Guelph, said the process was painstaking but worthwhile, even if the final result is flawed.

“It started with individual farmers coming up with their own regulations. It was a way to charge a premium for the extra work they put into it, and there were hundreds of sets of regulations just in Canada because each group came up with their rules of what they thought was important.”

And the government had to bring together these “fiercely independent” groups, including small producers and multinational operators new to the organics business, said Clark.

“Many people would still consider it flawed, but it is a whole lot better than nothing. And it will be mandatory, which is important for two reasons: it tells our farmers what they need to do to comply, but more importantly, it gives regulators some teeth to deal with fraudulent claims.”

Canada has had national organic standards since 1999, but they have been voluntary and certification bodies applied the standards differently.

As of June 30, only products with organic content greater than 95 per cent may be labelled organic and can carry the new logo. Multi-ingredient products with at least 70 per cent organic content may say they are “organic products” and declare the percentage, but they cannot use the logo.