In a past article, we looked at what “organic food” means and how to know if a given product is actually organic. In a nutshell, only products containing at least 95% organic ingredients can be labelled as organic in Canada. What’s more, they can only be certified organic if an accredited certification body certifies they meet Canadian organic standards.
There’s certainly no denying the growing popularity of organic food in Canada. However, the quantities and varieties of organic food our country is able to produce is limited – mostly due to our climate and growing conditions. We sometimes have to rely on the resources of other countries to meet our needs (and vice versa). While this may seem relatively straightforward, the importing and exporting of organic food is anything but.
All food sold in Canada must comply with applicable laws and requirements. However, organic food must also comply with strict organic regulations. Imported products are also subject to all applicable Canadian laws.
Canada does sign equivalency arrangements (trade agreements) with other exporting countries, but only after assessing and comparing the two regulatory systems to determine whether the principles and outcomes achieved are consistent. This organic equivalency allows the different standards, regulations or procedures of two countries to remain as-is, but treats them as if they were the same provided they achieve the same results and objectives – even if through different means.
Under an equivalency arrangement, an imported organic product can be certified by a certification agency accredited by the exporting country and recognized by Canada. If these imported certified organic products contain 95% or more organic ingredients, they can then display the Canada Organic logo on their label. Canada has now concluded equivalency arrangements with the United States, Costa Rica, Japan, Switzerland and the European Union. Approximately 70 to 80% of organic products sold in Canada are imported, mostly from the United States. Meanwhile, grains make up the bulk of Canada’s organic exports, which are primarily sold to the European Union.
Canadian products labelled as organic that are exported to countries that have not signed an equivalency arrangement with Canada must meet the requirements of the importing country. For these products to bear the Canada Organic logo or be sold as organic in those countries, they must also meet the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime. The goal of the Canada Organic Regime is to regulate all parties involved in the certification of agricultural organic products and to verify that all applicable regulatory requirements, standards and guidelines are being met. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) oversees, monitors and enforces the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime using a third-party service delivery model that includes conformity verification bodies, certification bodies and organic operators.
In short, when a product is identified as organic in Canada, it means it meets the applicable requirements, whether it’s a local product or coming from an exporting country.