The Canadian Organic System: Learning the ABC’s

Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada

In the organic world, CVB does not mean Convention and Visitors Bureau. Nor does OPR stand for Official Poker Rankings. The organic sector has its own acronyms to denote tools, institutions or references that characterize and regulate its activities.

The first organic reference tool is the standard: the Canadian Organic Production Systems standards (COS), that include Organic Production Systems – General Principles and Management Standards – and Permitted Substances Lists. The term “organic” farming is derived from the conception of "the farm as an organism," to describe the holistic, ecologically-balanced approach to farming.

To regulate the COS, and prevent a farmer from labeling his product as “organic” without anyone being sure that he or she grows products organically, the Canadian government in 2009 adopted the Organic Products Regulations (OPR) that designated the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as the government agency with authority to enforce the rules laid out in the OPR.  The Canada Organic Office (COO) is the CFIA department supervising the organic operations and applying the OPR.

Supervising means inspecting.  Under the OPR,”…certification bodies (CBs) are responsible for the organic certification of agricultural products and organic product packaging and labeling certification.” To perform certification, CBs comply with ISO65 General requirements for bodies operating product certification systems, certification standards designed by ISO (International Organization for Standardization), the world's largest developer of International Standards.

CBs are audited by Conformity Verification Bodies (CVBs) recognized by the COO. CVBs also have to comply with ISO standards, in this case ISO/IEC 17011, entitled Conformity assessment — General requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies.

The Committee on Organic Agriculture of the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB), usually called the Technical Committee (TC), is the official writer and reviewer of the COS.  The TC has already held five large meetings under the supervision of the CGSB to clarify and update the COS. The CGSB is a federal government organization that offers standards development services.  And, to close the loop, the CGSB is accredited by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) that is a member of the international ISO.

With these audit and regulatory systems in place to supervise organic production, the sector has also created organizations to voice concerns, educate consumers and trade organic products.

The Organic Federation of Canada (OFC), created in 2007, is taking care of regulatory and standards issues through an active interaction with federal and provincial governments. The COO mandated the OFC to manage the work of the Standards Interpretation Committee  (SIC), an advisory body to the COO, made up of industry experts. The SIC answers questions about the standards that have been voiced by CBs, operators and stakeholders.  Its recommendations, if accepted by the COO, become part of CFIA’s policy manual, and are binding on the activities of organic operators. The SIC refers questions revealing a lack of clarity of the COS to the TC, which will then insert them on its future work list.

Canadian Organic Growers (COG) is a pioneer in organic extension services and in sharing information with consumers and associations that are supportive of organic agriculture. COG played an important role by organizing three CGSB meetings of the Committee on Organic Agriculture for the on-going process of the necessary standards revision.

The Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) oversees organic trade, while also being involved in policy aspects of the Canadian organic sector. COTA is especially active on the organic import-export file. In October 2010, COG and COTA launched the first Organic Week, a successful promotional event that will be held again in 2011.

The Organic Value Chain Round Table (OVCRT) brings together industry leaders from across the value chain with federal and provincial government policy makers. The OVRCT mainly helps the sector develop strategies, organic branding, and funds studies on sensitive issues such as organic seed supply and the impact of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) on organics. OVCRT activities are regularly reported on the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) website.

These are the main national organic acronyms.  In addition, each province or territory has also established local organizations to help develop the sector in their neighboring lands: GoOFY, COABC, OA, SOD, MOA, OCO, FBQ, ACORN, OCNS, PEI COPC. One of those acronyms will connect you to the local organization that is waiting for your support!

And last but not least is OACC: does it ring a bell?  The Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada serves Canada’s organic sector through science and education.

This article was written by Nicole Boudreau, Organic Federation of Canada, on behalf of the OACC with funding provided by Canada’s Organic Science Cluster (a part of the Canadian Agri-Science Clusters Initiative of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Growing Forward Policy Framework).  The Organic Science Cluster is a collaborative effort led jointly by the OACC, the Organic Federation of Canada and industry partners
. For more information: or 902-893-7256.

Posted September 2011