Canada News

Farmstead Membership available

COTA now has a special membership category for family and smaller-scale organic farms. The Farmstead Membership enables organic farmers with annual organic sales of less than $250,000 to obtain a full COTA membership with all associated benefits for a minimal annual fee of $50. Farmstead members receive direct access to COTA resources and expertise as well as a vote in COTA Board of Directors elections. This affordable new membership category now provides Canadian organic farmers with the same opportunity U.S. farmers have accessed through OTA’s Farmstead Membership.

COTA post-election meetings with the federal government

Since the election of the new government, COTA’s team has been actively engaging with various departments on some of our sector’s key files. In a welcome letter to the new Minister of Agriculture, COTA raised key priorities such as organic equivalency arrangements, organic data collection, and Safe Foods for Canadians Act, and discussed new opportunities including a transition-support program for organic farmers. COTA also met with officials at Agriculture and AgriFood Canada and Statistics Canada to coordinate and align our key priorities.

COTA shapes Canada organic sector brand image

By Henry Chen

The objective of COTA’s consumer branding campaigns is to help create a sense of inclusiveness, unity, pride and support for the Canadian organic sector.

Today’s consumers are increasingly motivated in their purchasing habits through understanding the origins, process and values behind the products they buy. Complementing this, the organic sector’s tradition of transparency, third-party audit and traceability resonates strongly with consumers’ preferences. COTA’s brand campaigns are designed to leverage these value-propositions to achieve stronger organic sales and increase market share.

BC encourages consumers to Think Organic

By Shauna MacKinnon

The British Columbia (BC) government is working with the organic sector to prepare for a new regulation requiring all food and beverage products marketed as organic in the province to be certified by either a provincial or national certification program. Consumer education and building the organic brand are part of that work, and COTA, in coordination with the BC Certified Organic Brand Working Group, is adapting the national Think Before You Eat message for the BC audience.

The campaign has three objectives: educate British Columbians on what organic certification means and how to identify organic products; promote made-in-BC organic products; and develop marketing materials for BC’s certified organic producers that explain certification.

To start, we developed a series of four postcards and posters that invite consumers to discover organic in BC. Clear proof points for what organic delivers are highlighted along with the logos consumers need to look for to ensure a product is certified organic. Launched in time for Organic Week 2015, the materials were distributed to over 100 independent natural health retailers as well as farmers’ markets and market vendors across the province.

A targeted social media campaign is now underway that supports the printed materials and gives greater insight into the stories and value behind the organic label. Join us and our network of BC food and farm enthusiasts each week on #FarmerFriday to #ThinkBCOrganic. This spring, the campaign will be extended to involve value-added producers and reach consumers, distributors and retailers at BC’s biggest food and natural health shows.

Join us in telling the story of why certified organic matters.

Revised Canadian Organic Standards

By Marie-Eve Levert

The first fully revised Canadian Organic Standards were published in November 2015. The standards are written and voted on by organic farmers, processors, consumers and stakeholders, and published by the Canadian General Standards Board. Although there have been interim updates to the standards, this is the first full review since 2009. COTA was highly involved in the various working groups and the amendment voting process to protect the integrity of the organic claim and our members’ businesses.

The revised standard includes easier-to-understand language, clarifications on ambiguous standards, changes to the Permitted Substances List (PSL), and updates to ensure the standards remain true to organic principles. There are also more robust requirements for animal welfare, standards to reduce the risk of GE contamination, and clearer processing standards.

Crop—New requirements target specific crop production types: notably maple and birch syrup, sprouts, shoots and micro-greens, honey, and mushroom production. The standards also clarify the steps to follow in adding new production units to existing certified operations. There is no longer a 15-month waiting period required.

Livestock—The intent of changes for livestock production is to ensure high standards for animal welfare. Land access is now required for all livestock production regardless of the time of year, and new provisions ensure that operators establish and maintain animal living conditions that accommodate the health and natural behaviour of animals.

GE contamination—The revised standards contain a set of new provisions to minimize the risk of GE contamination. Included are mandatory risk management planning, additional measures to prevent commingling, and new buffer zones and isolation distance requirements.

Processing—Off-farm cleaning, facility pest management, storing, and transporting requirements are now covered under the new maintaining organic integrity” section.

Permitted Substance List—Of 380 substances on the list, more than 256 have been modified either to streamline or to clarify annotations. Revisions notably affect collagen casings, extraction solvents, precipitation aids and carriers, lecithin, meat curing agents, salt, yeast, waxes and SO2. 

Also of note, hydroponic and aquaculture production have not been added to the Canadian Organic Standards at this time. In addition, parallel crop production remains prohibited in annual crop production, including greenhouse production.

Certified organic operations have until November 2016 to comply with the new requirements. The next full review is scheduled to take place in five years.

Canada organic producers’ year in review

Organic products in Canada continue to enjoy robust demand, with conservative estimates for 2013 putting the domestic consumer market for organic food and beverages at $3.25 billion Canadian dollars.

According to reports by CIBC World Markets and Statistics Canada, the 2013 combined total sales of food and alcohol in Canada reached $112.8 billion. These figures suggest organic now represents 2.8 percent of all sales. In addition, organic exports, at over 500 million Canadian dollars, continue to provide value to producers, and are greatly facilitated by Canada’s five equivalency arrangements with major trading partners.

At a production level, there are continued echoes of the decline in supply following the global recession, concentrated in the Prairie region. However, it appears the rate of decline for producers has not had the same impact on acreage and has largely stabilized. In the context of unmet demand throughout North America, as well as lower prices for conventional crops and new initiatives to encourage conversion, it is hoped that the coming years will see an increase in producer numbers that matches the significant rise in Canadian processors seen since 2011.

The number of primary agricultural producers in 2013 was 3,513, representing a slight decline (2.3 percent) compared to 2012. The decrease is largely due to the loss of more than 60 growers in Saskatchewan, continuing the trend of the past few years. In fact, Saskatchewan has seen its number drop by 24 percent over the past two years, though acreage numbers have not been affected by this decline. The number of operators remained relatively stable in the other provinces.

In addition to the traditional producers reported above, COTA has tracked the introduction of operators certified to the new Canadian organic aquaculture standards published in mid-2012. In 2013, COTA counted 16 certified organic aquaculture farms managing 42 sites, which are in addition to the national total. These produce a range of livestock and seaweeds.

There are at least 873,555 hectares of land in Canada used for organic crops and grazing lands, including 9,992 hectares in conversion for crop production. There are also another 67 hectares of forest and 71,820 hectares of wild collection that comprise 39,560 hectares of maple woods tapped for organic syrup production. Crown land leases used for grazing of organic livestock are included under fallow in the total for agricultural land.  //