MPPs co-sponsor private members bill on organic products

September 22, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Bill Rea

Dufferin-Caledon MPP Sylvia Jones has joined with one of her NDP counterparts in putting forth a private member’s bill at Queen’s Park that would initiate an organic products regulation in Ontario.

Ms. Jones and Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns recently made the announcement.

Within the province, the federal organic standard, the Canada Organic Regime, is only enforced for products that carry the Canada Organic logo and those that are exported outside of Ontario — not those simply labelled “organic” and sold within the province. Five other provinces have already adopted regulations to address the need for better oversight of organic claims and ensure consumers and organic farmers are protected.

Ms. Jones said the bill would “ensure confidence in organic labeling across Ontario.”

She added many people are familiar with the Canada Organic Regime and its connection with organic products sold across the country. “The Canada Organic logo ensures that products with the logo are accredited as organic,” she said.

“However, this standard does not apply to products sold exclusively within Ontario,” Ms. Jones observed. “Five other provinces, Manitoba, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec, have addressed the inconsistent use of the word organic by adopting their own provincial standard.”

“Consumers and producers often pay a premium for organic products, because producers have gone through an arduous accreditation process,” she added. “Consumers need confidence that they are really buying organic when they pay for it. When consumers lose faith in the quality of organic products, organic farmers and businesses lose.”

The bill was developed in partnership with the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO), an association for organic businesses in Ontario. According to OCO President Tom Manley, the bill does more than just address labelling concerns.

“Consumer demand for local organic is huge,” he said. “Ontario has a $1.4 billion dollar organic market — the largest in Canada. Provincial regulation would protect businesses that already certify, and provide an opportunity for Ontario to support increased production so we can meet more of that demand right here at home.”

If passed, the legislation will set in place a legal framework to close the regulation gap in Ontario. OCO sees this bill as the beginning of a process that will allow all farmers and members of the organic value chain to contribute to the contents of the final regulation.

“We know there are many honest, hard-working organic farmers in Ontario who don’t certify,” Organic Council Executive Director Carolyn Young commented. “This bill is meant to be the start of a dialogue that leads to a made-in-Ontario solution. This would include adopting the federal standards, but also exploring more options for small-scale.”

These options could include tailored certification programs for small-scale farmers making organic claims, and financial supports that would help them do so.

“This bill is designed to open doors” observed Mr. Tabuns, who has been working with the Organic Council of Ontario to develop the bill based on Manitoba’s Organic Agricultural Products Act. “We want consumers to know they are actually getting what they pay for when they buy organic. But we also want to make sure that farmers and processors who invest in building an organic business are getting the most out of their investment.”

“This bill will provide further transparency and help ensure that the growing organic industry continues to enjoy consumer confidence,” Ms. Jones added. “I am looking forward to this bill starting a dialogue with farmers and other stakeholders about how Ontario can align itself with the regulations adopted in five other provinces and at the federal level.”

The federal organic regulation, created in 2009, provides a legal definition for “organic,” and a certification system for organic products that cross provincial and national borders, but does not cover claims within provinces. Although organic claims enforcement is within the official purview of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), complaints regarding fraudulent or misleading use of the word, “organic,” are not likely to be enforced unless the products in question carry the Canada Organic Logo or are traded across provincial borders.

“This important legislation, advocated for by the Ontario Organic Council, has found support from the three largest farm organizations,” Ms. Jones observed. “The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and the National Farmers Union — Ontario all agree that Ontario needs to look at an organic standard to ensure consumer confidence.”

“The Organic industry is growing Ontario, and it is time for Ontario to ensure that consumer and producer confidence in organic labeling remains strong,” she added.

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