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Organic Product Certification: What You Need to Know

The Canadian organic market is now valued at $3.7 billion per year in sales, making it the fourth largest organic market in the world. And demand for organic products is high – in B.C., 66% of residents now purchase organic fruit and vegetables on a weekly basis.

As consumers become increasingly aware of the differences between organic and conventional agriculture practices and food productions, the demand for organic products will only continue to grow, which creates a prime opportunity for small businesses to jump into this market.

But what makes a product truly “organic”? And what do you need to know before you label your products in this way? As it turns out, the answers aren’t always clear.

“Organic” in General Terms

Generally, organic products are produced using the ecological principles of organic agriculture. Organic agriculture seeks to eliminate the use of synthetic components such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, some veterinary drugs and genetically modified organisms.

Special attention is also paid to the processing and handling of organic products to ensure they not come into contact with contaminants used in non-organic food production.

Getting Certified

While some producers may generally comply with the principles of organic farming or adhere to specific province-based regulations, the issue of national organic certification changed with the introduction of the Canadian Organic Regime (COR).

On June 30 2009, the Canadian Government introduced the COR, a nationally regulated system for organic agricultural products. Products that are traded inter-provincially or internationally that are labelled or advertised as “organic” now require mandatory certification under the Organic Products Regulations (OPR).

Certification must be issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) via an accredited Certification Body. Only products that are certified and contain organic material greater than 95% may claim to be “organic” and/or display the Canada Organic logo, which is also regulated by CFIA.

What Certifications Means for Your Products

The use of the Canada Organic logo remains voluntary but it is regulated to ensure consumer protection.  Similarly, products that encompass any variation of the word “organic”, such as “organically grown” must meet the requirement outlined in the OPR.

Imported organic products are also not exempt.  While it is possible for imported organic products to bear the Canada Organic logo, the labelling must also state “Imported” within close proximity to the logo or state “Product of” with the name of the country of origin.

Of course, these mandatory statements must be printed in both French and English. Multi-ingredient products can also identify organic components, providing they contain at least 70–95% organic material.

While they cannot use the Canada Organic logo, they can specify the percentage of organic ingredients using the statement “contains x% organic ingredients”. In this case, the organic contents must also be identified in the list of ingredients.

Joint Canada–US Organic Recognition

If your business exports or imports organic products to the US, the COR now makes it much easier for those products to federally recognized as organic in both countries.

With the introduction of the COR, Canada and the US entered into an Organic Equivalence Arrangement on June 17, 2009. This arrangement recognized both countries’ organic regulatory systems as being equivalent and provided one of the greatest benefits for organic certification.

Products awarded with Canada Organic certification are also now awarded USDA Organic certification making organic trade between the two countries easier than ever.

Certified organic products can be labelled with either, or both, of the national organic logos providing they contain greater than 95% organic material.

Once again, the use of the logos remains voluntary, but including them on your product packaging will likely be a vote of confidence for customers in the market for organic products.

Where to Get Organic Certification

As part of the COR, the CFIA has appointed several Conformity Verification Bodies (CVB) who’s purpose is to assess, recommend for accreditation and monitor Certification Bodies.

There are several CVBs across Canada including the Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC). In addition to promoting and providing education on organic agriculture and foods, COABC also provides information on regional (BCCOP) and national (COR) certification.

Once you’ve obtained certification, copies of the Canada and US organic logos can be obtained through CFIA accredited Certification Bodies.

For more information on obtaining organic certification for your products, please visit www.certifiedorganic.bc.ca.