CANADA’S ROAD TO REGULATION
Prior to the development of these regulations, Canadian consumers could easily become confused by the wide array of organic claims in the marketplace. Canadian organic producers and processors chose voluntary self-regulation verified by
private-sector certifiers or compliance with other national organic regulations.
Two provinces of Canada, British Columbia and Quebec, even had separate definitions of what “organic” meant. To top this off, imported organic products
added more seals and claims for the shopper to sort out. In addition, because the
sector was not regulated and had no single definition of what an organic product
was, the Canadian government was only able to take enforcement action on products that made misleading or fraudulent claims (e.g. used an organic claim when
the product or ingredients were not certified to any standard).
This situation began to change in 1999 when the government’s standard-set-ting body, the Canadian General Standards Board, first published Canada’s voluntary national organic standard. By 2003, an initial proposal for regulation was
complete. After conducting a cost-benefit analysis and extensive consultations
with stakeholders in the organic sector, the government determined that a regulated mandatory standard needed to be established. Work on this standard soon
got under way, and on December 21, 2006, the Canadian Organic Regulations
were published in the Canada Gazette. This officially ended the era of the voluntary system and began a new phase whereby organic would fall under a federal
As outlined in 2006, Canada’s Organic Products Regulations (OPR) require all
organic food imported into Canada, or crossing provincial boundaries, to be certified to the Canadian standard by an
accredited certifier recognized by the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency. To
be certified, processors and producers
must follow the practices outlined in the
Canadian standards, several of which—
ranging from inputs to processing aids—
differ from NOP requirements.
Initially, the plan had been for the
OPR to take effect in December 2008.
Due to an unexpected call for general
elections, the implementation date was
pushed to June 30, 2009. In addition,
Canadian officials have developed a
“stream of commerce” policy in order to
facilitate the transition, sustain international organic trade, control non-compli-ance and protect consumers. The policy,
which is proposed to be in effect until
June 2011, will grandfather organic
products produced and labeled prior to
June 30, 2009. This policy will also provide producers and processors the time
to become certified to the new requirements at their next scheduled annual inspection, and to continue to sell organic
products already in the marketplace or
in storage that were not certified to
Canada’s standard. For more information on Canada’s new organic regulations, standards, requirements and
market reports, visit: www.ota-canada.ca.
Given the uncertainty around what
the new regulations will mean for U.S.
businesses, it’s worthwhile to step back
and examine the two nations’ organic
regulatory systems as they exist today.
On the macro level, many similarities
exist. While the structure of the Canadian system can seem complex and involves a large number of government
agencies, both systems have mechanisms for the development and enforcement of rules and regulations.
Similarly, both systems place the
growth of the organic sector, the
preservation of organic integrity, and
consumer protection as top priorities.
PREPARING FOR CHANGE:
STEPS YOU NEED TO TAKE TO BE READY
With the implementation of the new Canadian Organic Products Regulations around
the corner, there are some key steps that those involved in organic trade can take to
e nsure a smooth transition. Verify that your company’s certifier is accredited (or is making arrangements to be-
come accredited) under Canada’s new system, and will offer certification to
Canada’s standards. (See www.ota-canada.ca for a list of pre-approved certifiers cur-
rently active in the Canadian market.) Familiarize yourself with Canada’s organic standards. Attend seminars, workshops
and webinars that are offered about the Canadian standard and timeline for implementation. Canada’s organic standards contain unique elements that could affect
your product’s ability to be certified as organic in Canada. Remember, it’s not only
the processing that has to meet Canada’s standards; every organic ingredient or pro-
cessing aid must be certified to or compliant with the standards. Familiarize yourself with Canada’s Permitted Substance List (PSL). This is a positive
materials list, which means all materials used in organic production must appear on
the list with the appropriate classification in order to be used. Familiarize yourself with Canada’s labeling requirements. As with its organic stan-
dards, Canada’s labeling requirements are similar to those in other countries, but
also contain some noteworthy differences (e.g. no “100 percent organic” claim exists
in Canada, bilingual organic claims, etc.). Visit www.ota-canada.ca for copies of Canada’s standards, the PSL, lists of accred-
ited certifiers, the stream of commerce policy, and updates on what you need to
know about the new Canadian system.