Is Canada’s Organic Certification System effective?

Winnipeg – The Frontier Centre for Public Policy recently released a policy study examining the system for testing organic products in Canada.

In Canada’s Organic Nightmare (pdf), authors Mischa Popoff and Patrick Moore reveal that organic crops are not systematically tested by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which makes organic certification close to meaningless, they say.

Mischa Popoff is an author and former Advanced Organic Farm and Process Canadian Inspector, and Patrick Moore is a renowned ecologist and author best known for co-founding Greenpeace, the world’s largest environmentalist organization.

The authors show the circularity in a process that claims to establish standards for organic foods. Since the Canadian organic standard has no testing clause, the CFIA has essentially defined an organic product as any product that has been certified — thus emptying the concept of any real meaning. No mention is made of safety, purity, nutrition or sustainability.

This has important implications for Canadian consumers and the country’s $2-billion organic food industry. It is also important because the organic industry often points fingers at conventional food for its supposed “impurity” and makes claims that conventional food products that are not being systematically tested.

The report is not an attack on organic farmers or the many dedicated men and women who work in the industry, but rather hones in on the process of certifying foods as organic: “It comes as no surprise that with more than $2-billion per annum at stake, the Canadian organic lobby is dead set against organic field testing and will go to any lengths to discredit anyone who promotes the application of the scientific method to the organic industry,” said the authors.

The United States’ federal organic standards allow for routine, unannounced testing of organic crops, livestock and stored product. Some states voluntarily carry out mandatory, scientific organic field testing at the local level. But in Canada the only requirement is an exhaustive review of paperwork through a CFIA-accredited organic certifier, some of which are even off shore.

Canada’s lax testing standards are making this country susceptible to foreign organic importers, and risk of undermining Canada’s food producers.

The authors also show how a science-based system would cost less than a tenth of the cost of running the current organic certification system, and propose a more decentralized means of making testing and certification meaningful and effective.