VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government is moving to stamp out bogus organic claims being made by farmers that do not have third-party certification.
New regulations will restrict the use of the word “organic” to describe only products that have been certified by a national or provincial certification program, effectively closing a loophole that had allowed local farmers to use the term without being certified, provided they were not selling their products outside B.C.
As part of the new strategy — aimed at providing consumers with assurance that products meet accepted standards — the province will create a new, streamlined provincial certification system.
“We are going to strengthen the standards and reputation of B.C. organic products by regulating the use of the word organic and by helping farmers who want to become organic to do so,” said Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick. “People at farmers markets and shopping at the store want some certainty that the same standards are being observed by everyone who is marketing products as organic.”
Producers marketing products outside B.C. will be required to hold certification by a federally recognized certification body, as is already the case under existing regulations.
“We as certified organic producers go through a process to be able to call our products organic,” said Mary Forstbauer, co-president of the COABC.
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However, when the Canadian Organic Standard came into effect in 2009, producers were asked to refer to their certified products as simply “organic,” which has led to confusion among consumers faced with similar labels on goods that may have been produced in very different ways, she said.
“People presented with products that are both labelled organic wonder why one costs more,” she said. “Well, we go through a lengthy verification process, extensive paperwork and inspections for the right to call our food organic.”
The proposed regulatory changes will address a long-standing source of confusion for farmers market customers by providing assurance that farmers making organic claims are following organic standards, according to Vancouver Farmers Markets operations manager Roberta LaQuaglia.
Farmers who claim to be “uncertified organic” are a real source of irritation to vendors who have gone to the trouble and expense of certifying, she said.
“Organic is a word that carries a lot of weight with consumers, but when the consumer hears that a farmer uses organic methods, there is no way to tell what those methods are without certification,” she said. “This will help remove some of the guesswork.”
Vancouver Farmers Markets provide bright red signage to vendors that have organic certification to help differentiate them from conventional farmers, who have until now been allowed to legally use the word organic despite not having certification.
“We do have a problem at our markets where people say they are organic or they use organic methods,” said Ms. LaQuaglia. “We tell [uncertified farmers] they aren’t allowed to make those claims.”