Organic Week brings big news for BC this year as the provincial government solidifies their commitment to regulating the term organic. What does this mean for farmers, processors, and foodies alike? A whole lot less murkiness around what the word “organic” means.
Canada introduced a national certified organic label in 2009, but under the current system, any farm dealing solely within the province of BC can use the word “organic” to describe their product. This means that, while many products labeled organic are certified by national standards overseen by the Canadian Organic Regime, many may be farming organically but without certification.
Under the proposed change to mandatory certification, uncertified organic farmers and food processors will have to make a choice between getting certified or dropping the word. In turn, consumers can be confident knowing that certified organic is a choice that’s healthy for people and the planet.
Here’s why getting certified is a good idea:
Embracing Organic as a System of Production
Misunderstandings about organic food and farming are rampant. Many people mistakenly believe that organic farming can be summed up in two words: “no pesticides”. Organic is often described in terms of what it doesn’t do: use synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, etc…. But the true nature of organic farming is better framed in positives – healthy soil, healthy ecosystems, and healthy people. Certification is the best way to demonstrate what a farmer or food producer is doing to build a better food system and ensure the health of our environment for generations to come.
The majority of people who use the term organic without being certified have the best intentions. They are likely using one or several organic principles. They have strong relationships with the people buying their food, so they may not feel they need to be certified. However, no farmer knows everything. The standards of organic certification aren’t about forcing farmers into unreasonable or impossible limitations; rather, they provide knowledge and guidance that can only help a farmer improve.
In BC, many certifying bodies are made up of fellow organic farmers. Organic certification grew out of groups of farmers getting together to talk farming philosophy and best practices, and evaluate each other’s practices. Many farmers find community, mentorship, and friends within certification. As well, you gain the support of organizations such as the Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC), Canadian Organic Growers (COG), the Organic Federation of Canada (OFC) and the Canadian Organic Trade Association (COTA), who represent organic farmers and food processors, while promoting the development of a thriving organic sector.
It’s no secret that organic food tends to cost more. If you grow certified organic, you can command a higher price at market. As well, only certified organic products can bear that label at grocery stores or export to other provinces, so choosing to get certified can open up new markets. The financial opportunities around certified organic more than make up for the cost of certification.
Stewardship of the Land
Certified organic farmers reapply for certification every year, and must outline things like crop rotation, weed management, soil fertility, animal welfare, and so much more. While organic farmers are philosophically aligned with land stewardship, certification keeps farmers accountable to this philosophy – even during the most hectic times!
All producers are encouraged to explore what certification has to offer, and discover the wealth of support available to them in the certified organic community. COABC offers online toolkits to guide producers through the certification process. This Organic Week, farmers can learn about Certification Made Easy at a number of Organic Roadshow events sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture throughout the province of BC. Check it out – see what getting certified can do for you!