Ontario is significantly lagging behind other provinces on regulations for certifying food as organic and support for the industry despite having the largest market in Canada, a new report says.
"This report is the first time that we have been able to present a holistic perspective on the industry," said Tia Loftsgard, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association, who led the writing and research on the report. "Ontario is the largest province, and so I think that when it comes to having compliance across the country, we want to make sure that all provinces have the same standards and regulations."
The federal government introduced national organic regulations in 2009, which have since been adopted by Manitoba, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The report noted that Quebec has its own regulations, and the rest of the provinces and territories have none.
The report calls Quebec's system for the organic industry the strongest in the country. It excelled in the four areas examined, which included regulations, support programs for organic production and sales, and data collection. The report noted that Ontario has no provincial regulations and government support programs are limited.
Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said in a statement on Monday that the province is committed to supporting the growth of Ontario's organic farm sector.
"While the federal Canadian Food and Inspection Agency is responsible for monitoring and enforcing organic product regulations, my ministry continues to engage with organizations like the Organic Council of Ontario to gain their perspective on issues impacting their sector," Mr. Leal said.
Organic food generally refers to products that are grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. The report says Canada has the fifth biggest organic market in the world, adding that the sector was estimated to be worth $4.7-billion dollars in 2015, up from $3.5-billion in 2013, with Ontario being the largest market.
As the industry evolves, governments need to respond with the necessary regulation, policy and programs; not doing so, would hinder the sector's growth, Ms. Loftsgard said.
Currently, a product can be certified organic in Canada if it has been deemed so by an accredited certification body. Any product that uses the Canada Organic logo or claims to be certified by an approved certification body can have its claim tested and enforced.
Without a provincial regulation requiring producers to get certification, businesses can claim a product is organic without going through a certification and audit process, establishing an unequal playing field for businesses that have received the necessary certification for their food, said Carolyn Young, a lead consultant at the Organic Council of Ontario.
"While there are many honest, hard-working organic farmers out there that do not certify simply because they don't require certification to meet their customers' needs," Ms. Young said, "there are also an increasing number of businesses who might take advantage of the inconsistent and limited regulations."
Organic farmer Jonathan Naf said it is frustrating to see people falsely selling products as organic. It took him and his partner three years to transform Luxy Farm, east of Ottawa, into a certified organic farm, to benefit the environment and distinguish themselves from other growers. The two still invest a significant amount of money and time into the paperwork and establishment of their organic products.
"I don't like it when other businesses say they are organic when they are not certified," Mr. Naf said. "I hear it sometimes at the market, I hear them talking to other customers saying they are organic when I know they are not certified, and it's irritating given the time and effort we put into to getting our products certified."
Along with the lack of regulation, the report noted that absence of organic-specific data in many areas of the country is another barrier to the sector. The lack of data, the report noted, prevents Canadian farmers, processors and importers/exporters from learning of new opportunities or risks.
"The regulation is one part of a whole system that needs to be in place to help support the emerging Ontario organic sector," Ms. Young said.