Organic farmers, processors and consumers hope the government’s introduction of a mandatory regulation will mark the beginning of a new certified organic era in B.C.
On Monday, Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick introduced Bill 11, the Food and Agricultural Products Classification Act in the House. If it passes, the legislation will create certainty with the labelling of organic products.
“This will definitely reduce the murkiness in the waters around the word ‘organic’ in British Columbia,” says Carmen Wakeling, owner of Eatmore Sprouts and co-president of the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia.
As it stands, products sold in grocery stores or outside B.C. must be certified to carry the organic label. New regulations will extend the certification to farmers’ markets, farm gate sales and retail stores as of 2018.
“It’s something that COABC and organic farmers have been pushing for for a really long time,” said Arzeena Hamir, who owns Amara Farm in Courtenay and who sits on the COABC board. “We’re really happy this is going through. The ambiguities around the word ‘organic’ are really not helpful in the market.”
Hamir is not suggesting people are trying to pass chemical-laden food as organic. To be considered organic, she says a product needs to be checked by a third party. That’s where a certification program comes in to verify compliance.
“I think sometimes what happens is unknowingly, growers who are not certified might be using practices or ingredients, and they don’t realize there’s something non-organic in it.”
Regulatory changes would require all food and beverage products marketed as organic to be certified under a provincial or national certification program by 2018.
“Unfortunately in the beginning it’s going to be complaint-driven,” Hamir said. “That’s why there won’t be a lot of penalties initially. I think, for the most part, people are doing this unknowingly.”
COABC offers online toolkits to guide producers through the certification process: www.certifiedorganic.bc.ca/toolkits/