New bill provides clarity for consumers
BY ARZEENA HAMIR
The New Year is a time for new resolutions and if eating better is on your list, the government of B.C. has made the process just a bit easier.
In 2018, the province of British Columbia will enact Bill 11, a regulation to prohibit farmers, ranchers, bakers and other food processors from using the term “organic” on their labeling, unless the product is certified by a third party.
For the consumer, the new regulation means more market clarity. It ensures that ‘organic’ really means organic.
For the farmer and food processor, the new law means committing to certification or switching to a new adjective to describe their food.
“Consumers deserve to get what they’re paying for”, says Carmen Wakeling, President of the Certified Organic Association of B.C. and co-owner of Eatmore Sprouts in Courtenay. “The organic movement is built on transparency and until this regulation came into place, the marketplace was anything but transparent”.
When is “organic” not organic?
Before the passing of Bill 11, any producer could call their product “organic” without that product being inspected to ensure it met organic standards.
Apart from needing to be pesticide-free, organic products are inspected to ensure that there is no contamination from genetically engineered (GE/GMO) inputs, have good soil health practices, and for animal producers, have animal welfare standards that ensure the animals have access to the outdoors and a healthy environment.
All of these rules were written by farmers and are part of the Canadian Organic Regime (COR), which governs organic practices across Canada.
Previously, growers in B.C. didn’t have to follow that regime or be inspected. They could label their product organic without any justification.
For instance, not only must egg producers feed their hens certified organic, GMO-free feed, they must have a minimum square footage per bird with enough roost space, and must ensure that the henhouse has enough light available during the day that would permit someone to read a newspaper inside. Birds must be given access to the outside and farmers must prove that their chickens actually do go outside.
Consumers are often surprised to hear how much animal welfare is imbedded into the organic standards.
“When we started, we thought we had a strong handle on what was organic, like many people using the term organic practices. It turns out there were areas we were not noticing,” says Mariett Sluyter, owner of Whitaker Farm in Merville, BC. “Having a set of standards to uphold helps us hold true to our values.”
Problems for small farms
But not everyone is pleased with the new regulations.
For small-scale growers who earn less than $10,000 a year, the approximate $400-$500 cost of certifying can seem onerous.
“I’ll probably never certify,” says Erin Inness, a grower on the Sunshine Coast. “I meet every single person who buys food from me in person, so I always tell them if they want to see what I do they can come to the farm.”
For farmers who can’t afford to certify, they can speak directly with their customers and use other labels on their produce, such as non-sprayed, sustainable, or natural.
Implications for the Comox Valley
The changes in labeling regulations will certainly have implications for the Comox Valley.
A search of Facebook found a number of small farm businesses selling “organic” eggs and other products. Unless the farm is purposely operating at a loss, certified organic eggs can’t be sold under $7 a dozen due to the cost of feed.
But where the implications will be most felt will be with bakeries. Currently, at least four bakeries in the valley are selling “organic” bread products, which are uncertified. Although they may contain organic flour, some even list canola oil (genetically engineered) as an ingredient.
Consumers who are still unsure of whether a product is certified or not are encouraged to ask business owners first. If a satisfactory answer isn’t obtained, a complaint can be made to Emma Holmes –the new Organic Extensionist for BC Ministry of Agriculture at (604) 556-3087 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arzeena Hamir is a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at email@example.com.