Is all organic food really organic? Maybe not

Almost all organic food in Alberta is legitimately organic, but there’s a chance that’s not the case for organic produce, meat or grain sold by farmers directly to consumers.


The Alberta government has no legislation requiring organic food to be certified if it is produced and sold within the province.


“Without these (provincial) regulations right now, anybody can grow anything and call it organic,” said Tim Hoven, president of Organic Alberta. 


The situation is the same in Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.


“The CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) only has jurisdiction for products that are sold inter-provincially and internationally. It has no jurisdiction over intra-provincial sales,” said Stuart McMillan, an organic inspector from Manitoba.


Canada’s Organic Trade Association highlighted the regulatory gap in a state of the organic industry report released July 19. 


The Alberta government has taken steps to regulate what happens at the more than 100 farmers markets in the province. 


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A provincial representative said the government has advised managers of farmers markets to tighten up organic protocols.


Vendors claiming organic status should be posting organic certificates at their stalls so consumers know they are officially recognized. 


However, in some cases vendors may still be making an organic claim, with a sign or verbally, without providing a certification document. 


At certain locations the boards that oversee farmers markets may have rules about organic signage, the provincial rep said. 


If a vendor can’t provide proof of certification at those markets, they can’t display an organic sign on their booth.


Hoven said farmers markets rules aren’t the same as legislation, but it’s an improvement.


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“It’s kind of a temporary, stop-gap measure, until we can get legislation in place.”


Beside farmers markets, many producers sell meat, vegetables and grain directly to consumers from the farmgate. Those producers can say their products are organic without certification.


Hoven said it’s difficult to know how many, if any, non-organic products are misrepresented as organic in Alberta.


“I honestly do not know…. Are there dishonest people out there? Of course there are. How many of them? I don’t know,” he said. 


“(But) I think your typical organic producer is a very honest person.”


Organic Alberta has been lobbying to pass organic regulations, but the efforts haven’t swayed the Alberta government.


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