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Improving access to organic inputs in Canada

In Canada, there is no central resource for brand-name inputs that are approved for organic production and this causes confusion among producers.


June 17, 2020
By Laura Northey, Organic Council of Ontario

Topics
There is no single resource that an organic producer can use to easily find all or even most approved brand name products. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

For organic and non-organic fruit and vegetable producers alike, finding the right inputs for your particular crop that address your specific needs, and are appropriate for your climate, can be difficult. For organic producers, the added challenge is that before they even test a solution, they must check with their organic certifying body to ensure that the product is approved for use in organic production. If they don’t and the product is not approved, they risk losing their organic certification — and the profit that comes with it.

In Canada, there is no central resource for brand-name inputs that are approved for organic production. Producers can find out what generic substances and chemical compounds meet the Canadian Organic Standards (the Standards) by reviewing the Canadian General Standards Board’s Permitted Substances List. If they want to find out which brand name inputs are suitable for organic production, however, they must search for the right solution on their own. Some input manufacturers pay to include their products in the publicly approved input lists published by participating certification bodies or the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). But there is no single resource that a producer can use to easily find all or even most approved brand name products.

But there is no single resource that a producer can use to easily find all or even most approved brand name products.

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To add to this confusion, the industry has also observed differences between the inputs approved by various certifying bodies, leading to inconsistency in the enforcement of the Standards. This can occur quite innocently, because there is no universally agreed-upon level of depth to which organic inputs must be analyzed to assess for organic compliance. And although a new decision tree for inputs approval has been created as part of the Standards review for 2020, it is only a guidance document. What this means is that an expert from one company, assessing compliance at one level of depth, might rightly decide that the input is approved, while someone at another company might make a different and possibly conflicting assessment.

What this means is that an expert from one company, assessing compliance at one level of depth, might rightly decide that the input is approved, while someone at another company might make a different and possibly conflicting assessment.

How can the organic sector address this issue?

It is clear that certifying bodies and stakeholders in Canada need to work together to find solutions. In 2017, the Organic Value Chain Round Table (OVCRT), a group of federal, provincial, and territorial policy makers and industry leaders, convened a task force on organic inputs to address these concerns. In 2018, the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO) worked in partnership with the inputs task force to produce a feasibility study that assesses the inputs approval process in the Canadian Organic sector, and makes recommendations for how to address the issues.

Last fall, OCO received confirmation of further funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership for a second phase of this project. The objectives of this phase are:

  • To pursue the creation of a permanent national public resource through which organic operators can find information about approved inputs;
  • To develop a set of mutually agreed-upon procedures to bring consistency and clarity to the processes by which inputs are reviewed and approved in Canada;
  • To build rapport amongst members of the inputs approval community, for the benefit of the whole Canadian organic sector.

Working together, we hope to build on the integrity of the organic sector in Canada, and make it work better for every organic farmer, processor, and consumer.

 

Laura Northey is membership and projects manager for the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO). OCO represents more than 1,300 certified organic operators across the value chain, as well as the businesses, organizations, and individuals that help bring food from farm to plate.