The organic movement has been gathering momentum over the past few decades, building on milestones like the implementation of the Canada Organic Regime 10 years ago and the formation of the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA).
Beyond the rise of organic choices in fruit and vegetable aisles, the number and variety of organic products offered in stores across the country has soared. For COTA executive director Tia Loftsgard, this and other evidence of the organic sector’s continuing growth is a validation of consumer demand and success. “We are seeing so many new products – both domestically produced and imported – in all food categories,” she says.
The increase in consumer demand is felt across the organic community – by farmers, growers, distributors and producers, says Ms. Loftsgard. COTA recently released a report that estimates the 2017 sales value of organic processed foods and beverages at $2.5-billion, with interviews with leading organic food processors in Canada suggesting that most businesses experienced year-over-year growth of more than 10 per cent.
Statistics also show that there are now over 7,000 certified organic operations in Canada, nearly 5,800 certified organic producers and 3.3 million certified organic hectares (including wild collection).
A foundation for growth
With numbers supporting a consistent growth trajectory, Ms. Loftsgard believes the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the Canada Organic Regime invites reflections on the events and initiatives that created the foundation for the sector to flourish.
The organic movement has deep roots in Canada. In particular, two events in 1953 were formative: the creation of the Canadian Organic Soil Association (COSA), the first formal agricultural organization in Canada, and the Back to the Farm Research Foundation (BFRF), which became the first certified organic research and demonstration farm in Canada.
We are seeing so many new products – both domestically produced and imported – in all food categories.— Tia Loftsgard, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA)
“From there, we saw the natural development of different associations across the country. Some were specific to their regions or focused on research or organic certification,” says Ms. Loftsgard.
She explains that COTA traces its origins to a 1985 meeting called by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), which resulted in the creation of the Organic Food Production Association (OFPA). OFPA later evolved into the Organic Trade Association (OTA). COTA was born from this North American association and became a separate legal entity in 2007.
Establishing the Canada Organic Regime
“In 1972, IFOAM created the first organic standard based on international systems, but as various nations and regions developed their own organic regulations, the need for a Canada-wide definition of what was allowed to be called organic became evident,” says Ms. Loftsgard. “In 1999, the first voluntary Canadian organic standard was established. But in order to implement a national strategic plan and engage in international trade, it was important to have a government-regulated standard across Canada.”
This goal inspired an ongoing engagement of different members of the organic community in discussion with government. In 2006, the proposed organics regulations were first published in the Canada Gazette. “They were implemented three years later, and this gave the industry time to adapt,” says Ms. Loftsgard. “Also in 2006, the National Organic Value Chain Roundtable was founded, co-led by government and industry. It set the stage for a key relationship, where the organic sector works in tandem with government.”
In 2009, the national Canadian Organic Standard through the Organic Products Regime came into force. “At the same time, officials from Canada and the U.S. signed the first bilateral organic equivalency arrangement in the world, which helped to facilitate a lot of international trade,” says Ms. Loftsgard. “Since then, we have signed five more equivalency arrangements with different markets in the world. In total, they represent about 90 per cent of all organic consumer markets.”
Another more recent milestone relates to the organic standard moving from the Canadian Agricultural Products Act to the Safe Foods for Canadians Act, making it possible to include not only organic food, feed and seed, but also seafood, as regulated by the previously voluntary organic aquaculture standard, adds Ms. Loftsgard.
Solutions for the future
Despite the sector’s growth, organics make up a small percentage of overall agriculture in Canada, yet Ms. Loftsgard believes its focus on sustainability can inspire a “wave of the future,” she says. “As public awareness about the benefits of organic principles has grown, we see a lot of interest from new actors, corporations and associations looking to learn from the organic sector about how to put more sustainable practices into place.”
The motivation may come from goals like reducing negative environmental impacts, improving animal welfare or reducing consumers’ and workers’ exposure to potentially harmful substances, says Ms. Loftsgard. And through adopting certain practices associated with organic production, stakeholders may become interested in capitalizing on the high public trust that organic already enjoys.
Even to date, many well-known brands are adding organic offerings to traditionally non-organic product lines, she says. “Offering organic products helps to strengthen the organic food system and enables growers and producers to access organic premiums,” says Ms. Loftsgard. “It also helps to know that the demand is always growing.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.