April 18, 2019
By: Lauren Stallard

If you’re reading this you’re probably already one of the 66% of Canadians that purchase organic food weekly1. Maybe you’re into local food too, but have you ever thought about what “Farm to Fork” means for organic? It’s probably more complex than you might think.

Infographic with facts about the organic industry in Canada

A snapshot of the COTA 2017 Organic Market Report teaser.

You’ve probably heard about the rigour operators and producers go through to certify their operations. The paper work, the inspections, the extra costs, but what about the standards themselves? Did you know that the Canadian Organic Standard must be reviewed by a technical committee every 5 years? If this review is not completed the standards become unenforceable and Canada risks losing equivalency arrangements with international trading partners. The review process requires large investments from the industry in both time and resources. The total cost of the review is approximately $1,000,000 (which does not take into account roughly $500,000 of in-kind expertise, time, and travel expenses to participate in Standards’ Working Groups2.

The Canadian Organic Standards review was a hot topic at this year’s Organic Council of Ontario (OCO) Annual General Meeting (AGM). The event kicked off with a panel discussion titled, Organic Standards: Are We getting Them Right? A group of volunteers representing various working groups (10-60 members per working group) have participated in over 80 conference calls (2-3 hours each) over a 6 month period working through approximately 220 proposals for changes – 44 of which were rejected – resulting in approximately 75 proposed changes that will soon be available for public comment (in June 2019). Throughout the session there was a common theme – The importance of the review process and representation of the voices of the industry. Now is the time to review, and have your say. If you’re curious to learn more about some of the issues under review check out the #YourStandardsYourSay webinars OCO put on throughout the review process.

Photo of panelists on Organic Standards: Are we getting them right

The panel on Organic Standards: Are We Getting Them Right? Left to right – Ruvena Buslovich, Fiesta Farms, David Cohlmeyer, Greenhouse Working Group, Rob Wallbridge – Crop Working Group, Joel Aitken – Livestock Working Group, Hugh Martin – Chair of the Technical Committee on Organic Agriculture

The wording of the standards is given great consideration. The words chosen, the placement of punctuation – all of these things can affect the interpretation of the standards. In fact, there is a committee dedicated to interpretation of the standards. Wordsmithing is part of the art of standard’s review – ensuring the standards are as clear as possible – leaving as little room as possible for (mis)interpretation.

When it came down to AGM business you could tell that there were standards review people in the room. There was some debate over the wording of an amendment to the bylaws to allow online voting for board positions leading up to the AGM. Online voting will be allowed going forward – allowing more members to engage. Did you know basic OCO membership is free for all certified organic businesses in Ontario3?

You might be wondering, “What is the Organic Council of Ontario?”. OCO is the voice for organics in Ontario. Advocating on behalf of the industry from farm to table. Facilitating important conversations about Organic Standards review, advocating for an Ontario Organic regulation, and supporting the continued growth of the Ontario Organic industry.

In an effort to support this instrumental organization with more consistent funding Pfenning’s Organic Vegetables has been participating in a voluntary checkoff program where a 0.1% fee is collected on all sales and remitted to OCO. Different agriculture commodity groups have their own marketing boards that producers contribute toward, but the organic industry doesn’t have a group that represents their unique needs for marketing and research as an industry. OCO is working to change that, and we hope to see more businesses opt-in to their voluntary program.

OCO, and the organic industry in Ontario relies on the participation and support of the businesses it serves. And what a generous community it is! Over 30 businesses supported the event through sponsorship, and food donations. And Custom Catering, out of Barrie, ON did an amazing job putting it all together. The food was delicious!

A colourful bowl of salad

A colourful salad prepared by Custom Catering with organic vegetables from OCO members!

 

The day was jam packed with workshops on topics like:

  • Organic Integrity and Innovations in Traceability
  • Organic Research and Data
  • Competing Labels: Understanding other method of production labels for meat and dairy
  • Organic Seed in Canada
  • Tailoring Business Risk Management to Organic
  • Organic Inputs

Our team learned a lot, and enjoyed the day networking, and connecting with friends in the industry.

Glenn Valliere, Lauren Stallard, and Laura Mitchell standing under the OCO banner

The Pfenning’s Team at the OCO AGM – left to right – Glenn Valliere, Lauren Stallard, and Laura Mitchell

If you’re interested in learning more about the day, or the OCO send your questions to lauren@pfenningsfarms.ca.

 

1https://ota.com/sites/default/files/Canadian%20Organic%20Market%20Report%202017%20teaser.pdf

2https://www.organiccouncil.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Ask-Funding-of-the-Canadian-Organic-Standards.pdf

3https://www.organiccouncil.ca/basic-membership/