When it comes to food the word organic can mean many different things to a hundred different people. Oftentimes interpretation depends on which country you are living in. When we go shopping at the local grocery store or farmers market and see a food product labelled “organic” what does this mean?
Food advertisements and packaging use many words liberally such as :
- green, clean and perfect, fresh, free and delicious,
- natural, locally grown, farmers market,
- exceptional, extra fancy, no preservatives,
- no additives, no chemicals, antibiotic or hormone free
These words on food labels can, and are often misleading and definitely does not make sure a product is “organic”.
Here are a few of today's interpretations of this word as it applies to our food industry, its growth and production Hopefully this will help with the maze of so-called organic products rapidly becoming available. The information contained in this article pertains specifically to British Columbia, Canada.
Organic - Dictionary Definition
The Oxford Dictionary broad definition :
“Derived from as belonging to the animal and vegetable kingdom”
which just about includes anything biological from a solid wood table to sushi.
As can be expected, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency definition is a little more complex:
How to recognize an organic product
- As of June 30, 2009, any product with an organic claim must comply with the requirements of the Organic Products Regulations.
- Only products with organic content that is greater than or equal to 95% may be labelled as: "Organic" or bear the organic logo.
- Multi-ingredient products with 70-95% organic content may declare: "contains x% organic ingredients." These products may not use the organic logo and/or the claim "Organic".
- Multi-ingredient products with less than 70% organic content may only contain organic claims in the product's ingredient list. These products may not use the organic logo.
High Standard of Organic Food
Certified Organics Organization of B.C. “How Do I Know It's Organic” has excellent information and answers to common questions at the end of this article. Basically, this outlines the high standards for organic food production in B.C including inspections and certification requirements such as :
- It takes three years to get this certification and
- Once acquired farms are inspected annually to keep up status
- Misuse ends up with large legal penalties
- “The BC Certified Organic Program” meets, and sometimes exceeds, the Canadian Organic Standards and the standards set by the American USDA National Organic Program.”
Here is a simple definition from The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening by Rodale Press, 1977 in part :
“Organic gardening or farming is a system whereby a fertile soil is maintained by applying Nature's own law of replenishing it – that is, the addition and preservation of humus, the use of organic matter instead of chemical fertilizers, and, of course the making of compost and mulching.”
As stated elsewhere in this blog
- Always read food labels – to make sure you are buying what you want
- Always try to buy from a reputable source and if you can speak to the grower all the better
- Buy local, in season, produce when able
- Some other countries have differing criteria and lack of governing control and other concerns
- As a rule we prefer not to buy food (including labelled organic) from overseas.
- The organic food industry has exploded and become a multi billion dollar industry in the USA and elsewhere. Clear definitions, consistency and quality in both products, food production, and labelling is needed
- This brief outline will hopefully raise your awareness especially as it applies to food labelling which can be ambiguous
References & Links
- Canadian Government definition: Canadian Food Inspection Agency definition and information
- Canadian Organic Growers Association
- US FDA Definition: Information on natural and organic foods
- The “organic” definition from the Certified Organics Organization of B.C.
- Yes,chemicals such as BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) are permitted in organic farming in B.C.
- The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening by J.I. Rodale and Staff, 1977
How Do I Know It's Organic?
BC’s Organic "Gold Standard"
The BC Certified Organic check mark is the gold standard for healthy, delicious, BC-certified organic food. It means that every step of the way, from growing and processing to storage, cleaning and food handling, products with the check mark have met stringent standards for organic food production. These standards are reviewed constantly, and amended as more environmentally friendly solutions are discovered.
More on Certification in BC
Government Legislation and Control Provides Extra Assurance to the Consumer
Organic certification in BC is governed by the Regulations of the Agri-Food Choice and Quality Act of BC. There is a program of Provincial Organic Standards, government-controlled audit of the certification process, and a province-wide organic designation. The phrase, “British Columbia Certified Organic” - and the accompanying check mark symbol - can be used only by farmers or processors who are certified under the BC Certified Organic program. There are large legal penalties for their misuse.
Steps to Organic Certification in BC
- Operators must apply for certification to Certification Body
- Operators must complete a Certification Application and provide documentation as requested
- Farm maps, production records, herd health records, material application records are examples of documents which may be required
- The operation must be inspected by a Verification Officer who is a member in good standing of the International Organic Inspectors Association
- The operation’s organic status (1st, 2nd, 3rd year transition or Certified Organic) is determined by the Certification Body and the operator receives a Certificate which allows them to use the phrase B.C. Certified Organic to market their products
- This process must be completed annually to keep organic status