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Canada: New organic regulation critizised

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Mischa Popoff

Canada’s new organic standard will become law on the first of July 2009. There is criticism upon the realisation for example by Mischa Popoff. He was organic inspector in Canada for five years and has been highly critical of the organic certification system in Canada for years.
The Canadian authority CFIA was asked to comment on the allegations of Mr. Popoff, the answer is to be found below.
IFOAM encourages testings and unannounced inspections as tools to verify the organic system plan and the practices of the farmer and processor. Test results should not alone determine compliance to the organic standard but can indicate if further inspection or audits are needed.

Popoff wrote this open letter to the Canadian authorities, which Organic-Market.Info would like to publish:

"Canada’s new organic standard will soon become law even though it fails to recognize the most basic rules of commonsense. The Organic Office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will not require annual field testing or surprise inspections when it takes over regulation of the organic industry on June 30. Instead, a simplistic honour system devised in 1973 will become entrenched in law. The CFIA attempted to introduce surprise testing, but sometime during the transition between Jean Chretien and Paul Martin’s administrations (2003/2004) the industry succeeded in cutting it. In all other industries, the term “certified” guarantees a product was tested and that a surprise field visit was paid to the party seeking certification. Not so in the organic sector. Rather than promote honesty and engender improvement, the door will be left wide open to fraud and gross negligence. The result of such lax “certification” is that over 85 % of the certified organic food, beer and wine sold in Canada is imported based solely on the honour of the exporter. This dubious practice is about to be sanctioned under our government’s watch, and one could be forgiven for accusing the CFIA of failing to protect the people it’s supposed to be looking out for.

I grew up on an organic farm and worked for five years as an organic inspector. I’ve communicated with CFIA since 2002 on the pressing need to test organic farms and processing facilities on a surprise basis. Imagine running the Olympics without surprise testing for banned substances and instead asking athletes to fill out paperwork to “prove” they’re clean. It’s unthinkable. The industry’s objection to surprise testing is that it will raise the price of organic food. But a multi-pesticide test costs less than 200 $, a mere fraction of what organic farmers and processors pay to be certified. So, surprise field testing will reduce costs while exponentially increasing legitimacy. Organic products are claimed to be purer, more nutritious, and better for the environment. All such claims could easily be verified scientifically through laboratory analysis; shouldn’t the organic brand live up to what’s advertised? Why should Canadians settle for less?

The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program contains a provision that requires organic crops and food to contain no more than 5 % of the limit for any toxicity allowed in regular food. In other words, Washington requires that organic food be at least 95 % more pure than regular food. Sadly, this provision is not enforced by the American organic industry, but credit is nonetheless due to the civil servants who saw fit to write such a quantifiable provision into their standard. Clearly they recognized that honour is not enough, and that if something really matters you should be able to measure it. No such quantifiable provision exists in the Canadian standard. Many organic farmers are worried about the complete lack of objectivity in Canada’s new organic standard which will force them to continue to compete with dubious organic imports. The obvious question is: How long will it be before Canadian consumers at large also grow concerned and blame their government? Clearly, the time for testing organic farms is long overdue I’m available for consultation. Thank you for your attention on this matter.

Mischa Popoff, B.A. (Hon.) U of S, IOIA Advanced Organic Inspector


As answer to M. Popoff''s letter, Organic-Market.Info received this text.

1. Canada’s organic requirements are based on international standards for the verification of companies that wish to present their products as organic.

2. There is no test to determine if a product is organic. Certification Bodies (CB) are responsible for certifying organic products, based upon the evaluation of an organic production system. CBs can request testing when necessary to verify a suspicion on a contamination, such as testing of soil, chemical residues or product. 

3. Conformity Verification Bodies (CVBs) are responsible for assessing, monitoring and recommending accreditation of certification bodies.

4. All CVBs would be monitored by the CFIA to ensure that they conform to the Canadian requirements.

Thank you,

Michel Saumur
National Manager/Gestionnaire National
Canada Organic Office/Bureau Bio-Canada
Agri-Food Division/Division agro-alimentaire



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