Canada's organic certification system under attack in new study


A new report from the Winnipeg-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy has upset the organic apple cart.

The 23-page report, titled Canada’s Organic Nightmare, charges that the organic certification process in Canada has been rendered “close to meaningless” because of a lack of testing and the involvement of for-profit companies in the more than $2 billion a year industry.

“As long as consumers think organic food is worth more, then no one making money in and from the Canadian organic sector will ever be persuaded that it is necessary to bother proving it is worth more,” claims the report from Mischa Popoff and Patrick Moore. “They are not willingly going to act against their own economic benefit.”

The report claims that foods are routinely labeled as organic in Canada despite insufficient rigor behind the certification process overseen by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

It dismisses the regulatory system governing the organic industry as “lax,” and says it has been created in a manner that guarantees “overnight success” for the fast-growing green industry.

The Ottawa-based Canadian Organic Growers has fired back at the report however, calling it an “untruthful and indefensible indictment” of the country’s organic farmers and businesses.

In a statement issued late last month on behalf of Canada’s 3,900 organic growers and 1,200 processors, the organization says the current system provides the public with “the most scrutinized and inspected food production system available.”

It went on to call the FCPP report a “heavily biased document” written by “well-established opponents” of the organic industry.

The statement says that Canada’s organic food system is required to meet all food safety and regulatory requirements, including random testing for chemical residue.

“Testing is, and always has been, one of the many enforcement and inspection mechanisms available during surprise spot-checks or when an inspector determines that testing is merited,” said COG. “Organic farmers and processors undergo mandatory annual third-party audits and site inspections.”

CFIA began regulating the organic food industry in 2009, establishing a requirement that any foods claiming to be organic must be certified by a CFIA-accredited agency.

But the report calls the certification process the organic industry’s “dirty little secret,” portraying it as process-driven endeavour that places little emphasis on safety, purity, nutrition or sustainability.

It cites internal spot tests conducted by the CFIA last year, which found that 24 per cent of 599 samples of CFIA-certified food products contained residue from prohibited herbicides and pesticides.

Testing is the crux for the report’s authors, who claim that the only requirement for Canadian foods to be deemed organic is an “exhaustive review of paperwork” through a CFIA-accredited organic certifier that receives “royalties” of between 1-3 per cent of a client’s gross revenues, which can account for as much as 20 per cent of profits.

“The sad fact of the matter is that wherever CFIA-accredited organic certifiers are located, they stay in business only as long as their clients stay in business,” said the report.

The paper says the lack of a mandatory testing provision makes the organic certification process tantamount to the “honour system,” and goes on to accuse the “Canadian organic lobby” of being reluctant to implement any system that could potentially jeopardize the country’s approximately $2 billion a year organic food industry.

The full FCPP report can be found here, while the response from the Canadian Organic Growers is here.

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