‘Organic’ now means organic

‘Organic’ now means organic

New bill provides clarity for consumers


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.

Mariett Sluyter, of Whitaker Farms

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 emma.holmes@gov.bc.ca.

Arzeena Hamir is a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at arzeenahamir@shaw.ca.


Record’s error went beyond omitting a disclaimer

Record’s error went beyond omitting a disclaimer

The Comox Valley Record, our local newspaper, drew widespread criticism last week by turning over its Dec. 12th front page to an advertisement that looked like a news story. The “advertorial” was sponsored by a development company at war with some residents and the Comox Valley Regional District.

But it wasn’t the newspaper’s real front page. It was what the industry calls a “wrap” — an advertisement that mimics the look of an actual front page, but is, in fact, a fake front page. The special outrage in the case was caused by the paper’s failure to label it as advertising.

In response, people have left a long thread of mostly angry comments on the Record’s Facebook page, where publisher Keith Currie apologized for “inadvertently” failing to include “identifying markers, making it easily recognizable to the reader as an advertisement, and not editorially-produced journalism.”

Most people aren’t buying his mea culpa.

Reading the paper’s Facebook page thread, it’s obvious that people believe the newspaper intentionally left off a typographical element that would have identified the two-page groan by a Fanny Bay company, 3L Developments, which is frustrated that it can’t bend the will of the CVRD planning department.

Angry readers seem to think the developer flashed his cash so the publisher and advertising manager would look the other way when the page went to press without a prominent disclaimer identifying it as an ad, not a news story.

It’s a believable theory, but a hard one to prove.

As someone who has spent 50+ years in the newspaper business, I can assure you that advertisers sometimes do pressure advertising sales representatives to omit disclaimers. I can also verify that all newspaper employees know — or should know — the absolute rule that requires paid content to be clearly identified as such.

That said, humans make errors, and this could have been one.

But the problem in this case is that the focus on an omission of a disclaimer misses the most troubling aspect of this fiasco.

The more serious error committed by the Record was that it published the advertorial on its fake front page at all.

In the long, slow decline of printed newspapers, the search for new sources of advertising revenue has led to the selling of its most precious real estate: the front page. It started with banner ads across the bottom and small ads at the top.

The selling of the front page has escalated into fake front page wraps. These are usually recognizable advertisements for retail businesses. They’re ads just like the ones inside the newspaper. But for a higher price, the newspaper will put them on a false front.

Even such esteemed newspapers as The Los Angeles Times do it.

The 3L Developments fake page falls into a different category, however, because it mimics a news story. Whether to publish it on the cover of the newspaper should have included ethical considerations — and rejection.  

Why? The 3L Developments advertisement bemoans its plan to develop 495 acres along the Brown and Puntledge rivers, including the popular Stotan Falls. The controversial project has already triggered several legal actions.

And the content of the advertorial includes disparaging remarks about the actions of an elected official and an unverified quote from a CVRD staff member.

By placing the advertorial on a fake front page, The Record unfortunately gave the impression that 3L Developments’ version of the situation was factual, without the scrutiny that a legitimate news gathering organization would require.

3L Developments may be able to support every word in its advertorial. That isn’t the point. Although, there’s no indication so far that the Record conducted any independent fact-checking.

Knowing the topic is so controversial and legally complex, the Record committed a serious error in judgment by giving the advertorial such prominent placement.

The omission of some words identifying the article as paid advertising content is trivial by comparison.

But before we’re done roasting the Record or any other publication that publishes advertorials on fake front pages or elsewhere, let’s take a moment to reflect on the slow breaking down of the historical wall between advertising and news.

Have you opened a web page recently and seen a fake news (aka “sponsored content”) post like this: “How I made $2,000 a week working from my Comox Valley home!” Or, “How I achieved financial freedom working just four hours per week?”

These are just the reinvention of print newspaper and magazine ads that, for example, tout formulas for losing weight without diet or exercise, or how people can improve their eyesight to see in the dark.

Presenting advertising in a quasi-news format has made the wall between actual journalism and paid content so paper thin that it is almost invisible to the unwary reader. And that only benefits advertisers.

Marketers have discovered that inserting paid content that looks like news next to real journalism can boost the credibility of their products.

It does something else, too: it drags everybody down. Most people aren’t completely fooled by the paid content, but the work of serious journalists gets tainted by association.

The editors who mentored me in my early journalism career pounded home the notion that acting ethically was just as important as how many words per minute I could type.

In a world where the term “fake news” gets thrown around indiscriminately, some people no longer feel bound to think and act ethically. Sadly, that’s going to sully real journalism for everybody else.


Courtenay tackles wood stoves

Courtenay tackles wood stoves

Will Comox, Cumberland, CVRD join the party?

By Rebecca Lennox

This resolution passed unanimously at yesterday at council. As I look back over the year, I am grateful that I had the honour of being your voice on council and I look forward to almost another year in that seat.

It is hard sometimes to know if I am doing the right thing, as there are so many huge issues facing us, but I do my best and that is all anyone can do in life.

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to be engaged in their community and to all of you who make the Comox Valley the wonderful place it is. Best wishes for 2018.

Rebecca Lennox is a member of the Courtenay City Council. She may be reached at rlennox@courtenay.ca


It is well documented that poor Comox Valley air quality continues to be a major issue for residents of the City of Courtenay, not to mention the associated health concerns. The problem is most acute during the winter months.

Our provincial government has enacted more stringent regulations concerning wood burning appliances sold in B.C. as well as clearly identified the types of fuel that can be burned in those appliances, all in an effort to reduce pollution.

The City has worked in partnership with the Regional District to improve air quality with programs such as the Wood Stove Exchange Program as well as public education.

To date, 71 applications have been received for rebates to update wood appliances to the new code, but sadly only 4 of those applications are from Courtenay residents.

It is clear that the City needs to take further action, therefore I am proposing the following resolution:

1) Wood burning appliances are a popular means of home heating in the City of Courtenay;

2) The City of Courtenay is identified as one of the top ten BC communities for PM2.5 level pollution, that is fine particulate matter that can be inhaled deep into the lung;

3) Studies have proven that there is a direct correlation between PM2.5 pollution and serious health conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, lung and heart disease, not to mention the impact on other serious health conditions. Children and older adults are most at risk but no one is immune;

4) A recent study conducted by Health Canada not only here in the Courtenay/Comox area, but also Kamloops and Prince George has found a direct correlation between elevated levels of PM2.5 from wood burning to hospital admissions for heart attacks; and

5) According to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, advanced wood burning appliances compared to older, uncertified appliances can:

-reduce toxic emissions by as much as 55%,

-reduce PM2.5 emissions by as much as 70%

-increase energy efficiency by at least 70%

-use 30-50% less firewood;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Council direct staff to implement the following measures to reduce City air pollution with the objective of protecting the health of our residents, including:

1) implementation of a two year program to bring all wood burning appliances within the City in compliance with current federal CSA and provincial certifications and emissions standards;

2) provide those residents who can demonstrate that upgrading their current wood burning appliance to a modern, cleaner and more efficient appliance would present an undue financial hardship with financial assistance in the form of an interest free loan from the City to enable them to update their appliance;

3) effective immediately, homes sold with wood burning appliances within the City of Courtenay will be required to confirm that the appliance conforms to the latest federal and provincial government certifications and emissions standards or replace the appliance with a compliant model;

4) create and implement municipal regulations and guidelines outlining the types of fuels allowed to be burned within the City of Courtenay; and

5) advocate with the Town of Comox, Village of Cumberland and the Comox Valley Regional District to adopt similar regulations.

Union Bay: in or out of CVRD?

Union Bay: in or out of CVRD?

Board video goes missing, decision reversed

By Alice de Wolff

The Union Bay Improvement District (UBID) board has done an about-face.

On Nov. 16, the UBID Board of Trustees voted to evaluate the pros and cons of joining the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD).   

 But at a public meeting on Dec. 14, it became clear that the board does not have a unified will to act on this motion, at least not in the immediate future.   

First of all, landowners learned that the minutes of the Nov. 16 meeting do not include the relevant motion. The UBID Administrator reported that the motion and its discussion were somehow deleted from the video recording of the meeting and consequently didn’t make it into the minutes.

An amended set of minutes are promised in the new year.

But now it appears that the board made another decision to defer initiating the process until the UBID has completed several major projects.  The Board made this decision at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Dec. 13.  

No formal record of this decision has been made public. However, Janet Thomas, a landowner who was present at that meeting, reports that the board voted to not approach the CVRD until: 1) the new water filtration system is set up; 2) the watershed around Langley Lake is protected from logging; and, 3) the fire hall is secured.   

At yet another public meeting, on Dec. 14, the board chair responded to several questions from landowners about when the board would start the process of exploring a merger with the CVRD, and what would be involved. 

The chair stated repeatedly that joining the CVRD was not on the board’s agenda.  

Alice de Wolff is a Union Bay resident and a Citizen Journalist with the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. She can be reached at alicedewolff@gmail.com


Should Union Bay join CVRD?

Should Union Bay join CVRD?

Water district residents will decide in public vote

Photo: The iconic Union Bay Post Office seen from the breakwater

By Alice de Wolff

The Board of Trustees of the Union Bay Improvement District (UBID) will evaluate the pros and cons of joining the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD). They made the decision at their November board meeting. 

The information that emerges during this process will be made public, and Union Bay landowners will ultimately decide whether to go ahead with the conversion.

“The Improvement District management system is intended for small rural areas.  But the projects UBID needs to take on over the next couple of years are too complex and expensive, and we need to graduate to the next stage,” says Suzanna Kaljur, UBID Trustee. Kaljur moved the motion at November’s meeting.

UBID manages the volunteer fire and rescue, drinking water and street lighting systems for 1,185 residents who live in 560 residences. It faces a number of pressures to upgrade and increase its services. 

The community includes some of the traditional territories of the K’omox First Nation, who are in the final stage of negotiating a treaty. A final treaty could mean a housing development and the need for services on their lands.   

Kensington Island Properties owns another large parcel of land within the community, and has a long-standing proposal to add over 3,000 housing units and a golf course to the district.   

Kaljur’s motion in November was the third time she had put the proposal before the Board. She was following through on a 2016 a petition that was signed by 420 property owners that requested the provincial government to transfer UBID”s governance to the CVRD. The province responded by making it clear that only the UBID Board could initiate this change.

There are several substantial projects ahead for the district.

The most pressing is the first phase of new water treatment plant for existing homes. Island Health requires that UBID complete it within the next year. The second phase requires further filtration installed by 2021. In addition, a new primary reservoir is needed. 

A recent report to the UBID Board points to concerns about how much use Langley Lake can handle, and recommends a comprehensive hydrologic analysis. Langley Lake is the source of Union Bay’s drinking water. The district’s water mains also need to be upgraded and the existing water meters and billing system must be replaced. 

And finally, the fire hall location and equipment are scheduled for replacement and upgrading by 2020. 

While the last two boards have stabilized UBID’s tax revenue in order to handle the major costs of the first phase of the water treatment plant and the fire hall upgrades, the district’s resources are stretched. Improvement Districts are not eligible for the kind of funds that the regional district can access, including municipal and federal infrastructure grants.   

By comparison, three quarters of the cost of CVRD’s proposed new water treatment facility will likely be paid for by other levels of government.

The board’s motion means that it can now apply for a CVRD grant to research the details and costs of transferring responsibilities and administration to the CVRD. The investigation, followed by a public education process and discussion among Union Bay landowners will take many months.

Sandwick Waterworks District is the most recent community to join the CVRD. Their process began in 2103 with a resolution that was similar to the one just passed by UBID. Their conversion was completed in early 2017. 

Sandwick residents now pay an annual flat water rate rather than metered billing, and their water bills are included in their annual property tax notices. In addition, each family home is responsible for $4,902 for new connections to the CVRD water system.

Alice de Wolff is a Union Bay resident and a Citizen Journalist with the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. She may be contacted at alicedewolff@gmail.com.

Engineers battle coastal tankers

Engineers battle coastal tankers

Brian Gunn forms Concerned Professional Engineers

Photo: Aframax tanker negotiating the Second Narrows Bridge in the Burrard Inlet.


By Catherine Gilbert

From his office located on the second floor of the log home overlooking Upper Campbell Lake that he shares with partner Myrna Boulding, Brian Gunn has been working tirelessly for the past 15 years to make a better BC. 

He works without any expect of a reward; in fact often traveling and hiring help at his own expense. A retired engineer and former owner of a dude ranch in the Cariboo, Gunn is also past president of the Wilderness Tourism Association of BC, an organization that gives a voice to adventure tourism operators on issues such as land use and park permits. 

He is nearing his 80th birthday, yet still remains engaged in various advocacy issues and has garnered a reputation for getting things done.

The Second Narrows Bridge collapsed in 1979 when a ship collided with it

His latest project has been to form an organization known as Concerned Professional Engineers, or CPE that is composed of other retired engineers as well as a professor of engineering at UBC, Dr. Ricardo Fosci. The CPE have joined forces to challenge the methods in which oil products are being shipped from and along the coast of British Columbia. 

It all began with a trip up the northern coast of BC in the summer of 2012, starting in Bella Coola and ending in Kitimat, when Gunn and Norm Allyn interviewed residents and local politicians about their attitudes towards the proposed Northern Gateway Project. This developed into applying with the National Energy Board for Intervenor status, being accepted and attending the hearings at Prince Rupert. 

The CPE expressed the concern that NG intended to ship dilbit (diluted bitumen) by tanker out of Kitimat.  Kitimat is located 300 km from the open Pacific, and to reach the ocean, tankers would have to navigate narrow, foggy, stormy passages in an area of some of BC’s most pristine ocean environment. 

Instead of Kitimat, the CPE felt that Enbridge should have been considering alternative ports such as Port Simpson or Prince Rupert. One of their other major concerns is that not enough testing has been done to know how dilbit behaves in a marine environment and that the consequences of a major spill are unknown.

The map shows the position of both the First and Second Narrows Bridges in Burrard Inlet

Most recently, the CPE has been challenging Kinder Morgan’s proposal to increase their transport of oil through the Burrard Inlet in Vancouver from one day per week to seven days (the TransMountain Expansion). Already, alarm bells were going off when the CPE considered the danger in having any large tankers at all progress through the inlet, passing the First and Second Narrows bridges before arriving at the open ocean. 

They have proposed that Kinder Morgan should change its shipping terminal to Roberts Bank, just outside Tsawwassen, which would place the oil tankers away from the city.

As spokesperson for the CPE, Gunn likes to make it clear that the CPE are not against the oil industry and understand its relationship to Canadian economic growth.

They are however, concerned about protecting the British Columbia coast and its environment. They wish to provide an informed view of how projects such as Northern Gateway and the Transmountain Expansion can be made as safe as humanly possible. As Gunn says, “there is no such thing as 100 percent safe, but we know that there are safer alternatives than what are being currently proposed.”

Visit their website for details on what action the CPE has been taking, and what they propose still needs to be done.

Catherine Gilbert is a Citizen Journalist currently in Victoria writing a graduate thesis about Strathcona Park and continues to assist Brian Gunn with CPE correspondence. She can be reached through her website http://catherinegilbert.ca


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