British Columbia

Organic food in B.C. must be certified starting next year

Organic is a popular label in grocery stores, with two out of three Canadians spending at least some of their weekly grocery budget on organic items. But the term doesn’t always mean what consumers may think.

Right now, there is a difference between the label 'organic' and 'certified organic'

There are almost 500 certified organic agricultural producers and over 200 certified processors and handlers in the province. (Dean Fosdick/Associated Press)

Organic is a popular label in grocery stores, with two out of three Canadians spending at least some of their weekly grocery budget on organic items. But the term doesn't always mean what British Columbian consumers may think.

That will change in 2018 when a new provincial policy will require all products sold in B.C. and labelled organic to be certified.

Right now, organic food and beverages that are marketed within B.C. do not need to be regulated by a third party.

Anyone can call their product "organic" and that doesn't necessarily mean that they are following national or provincial standards required for the "certified organic" logo.

The difference in terms can be confusing for consumers who want to buy organic products, said Carmen Wakeling, president of the Certified Organic Associations of B.C.

"It is very challenging even for many of us who are in the sector to really get that clarification," Wakeling told CBC guest host of B.C. Almanac, Renee Filippone.

Someone might buy what they think is organic and, under the current rules, not get what they think they're paying for since it is not certified.

Products that are exported and sold as organic outside the province must undergo federal or international certification.

Cost of certification

The certification process is stringent, Wakeling explained, and looks at how the product is both produced and processed.

Products that are certified organic have to be made up of at least 95 per cent organic ingredients, for example, and grown without synthetic pesticides or genetically modified organisms.

"The standards are very in-depth," she said. "There are some very basic principles that are attached and it's around the principle of health, the principle of ecology, the principle of fairness and the principle of care."

Following those standards and gaining an organic certification comes at a cost to farmers and producers. Each year, for example, they have to send in an application and undergo an inspection. 

This means that food and beverages that are labelled as organic but haven't been certified can have an unfair advantage in the market. 

"Cost is part of it," Wakeling said. "It's important to the producers who grow food in this manner that it's acknowledged and that we are able to be transparent to our consumers."

The new provincial policy will take effect in September 2018 and requires all products marketed as organic in B.C. to be certified through an accredited federal or provincial program.

To hear more, click on the audio link below:

With files from B.C. Almanac


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