Ontario farming bodies call on province to implement organic certification rules

Several farming bodies are calling on the provincial government to implement organic regulations to promote national uniform standards.
Paige Postma is the co-owner of Sungold Organics, a non-certified organic farm south of London. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Several farming bodies are calling on the provincial government to implement organic regulations.

report by the Canada Organic Trade Association revealed that Ontario, home to a third of the nation's organic market, has the lowest ratings for organic regulations and enforcement.

The Organic Council of Ontario has called on the province to regulate the term "organic," increase the enforcement of certifications and ensure all provinces and territories adopt organic regulations.

"Within the province of Ontario the use of the term organic is completely unregulated. Anybody can call their product organic," said Laura Northey, who represents the council. "The problem here is that the word organic is being watered down and consumers are losing trust in the term."

Canadian Organic Growers has also backed the push.

Ashley St. Hilaire, who's the director of programs and government relations for the non-profit organization, said the lack of province-wide regulations creates an unequal playing field for organic businesses.

"It's about limiting the opportunity to take advantage of a marketing claim when you're not in fact practising that," she said. "For a farmer to say that this product is an organic product or it's grown using organic practices -- it's important for the organic consumer base to know there is oversight and enforcement of that claim because there are people who could be taking advantage of it."

In 2009, the federal government regulated the term organic. Since then five provinces, excluding Ontario, have adopted the regulation – that helps consumers distinguish between certified and non-certified products.

Within Ontario, about 60 per cent of farms making organic claims are certified organic, according to the council.

Maddy Wislon, who's the Covent Garden Market farmer's market manager, says about 15 to 35 vendors come out every week. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Local farmers on organic certification 

Paige Postma is the one of the newest vendors at London's Covent Garden farmer's market.

The co-owner of Sungold Organics, a non-certified organic vegetable farm south of London, said she uses organic practices. She doesn't use organic labels or advertising on her products.

"It's money, it's time and it's my first year. I'm very small scale."

The owners are currently pursuing organic certification. 

Christine Scheer, of Dolway Organic Farms, which has been selling certified organic produce for about 20 years, said farmers work hard for the stamp of approval.

"Organic farmers work really hard to have good soil and really have organic products so to be certified is very important," she said. "If you have somebody next to you at the market saying their stuff is pesticide free for instance, there's no certification for that unless you're certified organic."

The campaign includes considerations for small farms that may face barriers to organic certification.

"We recognize that certifications are an additional cost for farmers," said St. Hilaire. "We're trying to level the playing field for producers who are going out of their way to obtain organic certification to transition their land and adopt all the practices – it would be unfair to then compete with people making the same labeling claim without having to go through that same process of effort or expense."

The council is in contact with other farming bodies across the province and is set to launch into a new phase of the campaign this fall.