Bringing clarity to what constitutes organic produce

  • Aug. 9, 2017 2:37 p.m.

Labelling or calling produce organic was confusing until 2009 when the government put through the Organic Product Regulation Act.

The act specifies what is considered certified organic and how it should be labelled taking the guess work out of purchasing organic products. All organic products in Canada, imported or local carry the Canada Organic Biolocique Canada Label.

The word organic can be used on the product but not the term “Certified Organic”, unless it includes the name of the groups that certified the product.

In the words of the Canadian Federal Government, “All organic products, under the Canada Organic Regime, must be certified by a CFIA-accredited certification body. Therefore, the claim “certified organic” is considered misleading, as it implies to consumers that products not bearing this claim are not certified.

Any food without the label from an accredited certification body is not certified organic. Products are often certified by more than one organization depending on their market.

Food that is certified organic by the Canadian Organic Standards was produced by minimizing the impact that they have on the environment.

For plant material it means stopping erosion while maintaining or increasing soil fertility and biological activity within the soil. It includes only using materials that are approved for use through the Organic Production Regulation Act. The list is extensive but the use of each item fairly specific.

Pesticides on the list, are derived from natural sources and do not have a residual life. Some are poisonous and need to be handled with care.

The list of fertilizers are ones found in nature. Exceptions are cloven hoofed animals due to Mad Cow disease and sewage sludge. In other words using the contents from a sewage lagoon, private or commercial including biodegradable toilets is not allowed under Canadian Organic Standards.

Processed organic food is not allowed to contain artificial color, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives. 95% of the materials used in the product have to be organic.

The closest agency to help Albertans is the Alberta Organic Producers Association with a head office in Mornville.

Becoming certified organic takes time and can be expensive. As a result people will call their product alternative names such as spray free or antibiotic free giving some but limited information.

Spray free and anti-biotic free are not bad things. It tells consumers what was not used on the product. There is no governing body insuring that the producer is being truthful.

In terms of making purchases at a Farmer’s Market, Town Market or gate sales not being certified does not always mean that the product is substandard. It means that the consumer must ask questions.

What fertilizer do you use? Fertilizer is complicated as the grower could use compost or manure as a fertilizer which is considered organic depending on what the animals ate or what material went into the compost. If the grower purchased the soil amendments from they might not have the answers.

What pesticide have you used on the crop or land? The answer will depend on the crop. Often the answer is nothing but for crops such as currants expect to hear that they have been sprayed to eliminate worms in the fruit. Chemicals add to the expense of production and are used as little as possible.

Produce that is considered a Genetically Modified Organism is available from large growers. They have signed contracts with the producers. GMO seeds are not available to small producers or home gardeners. Some of the larger producers that attend many markets will be selling GMO foods. Ask.

If how food is grown is important? Read more of the Organic Regulation Act. Ask questions when purchasing food from gate sales or at Farmers Markets. Know what you are eating.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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