Frequently Asked Questions


How Do I Know If A Product Is Really Organic?

The quickest way to know if a product is organic is to look for the Canadian Organic logo!

A USDA or EU logo can also be used to identify organic products, as we have equivalency agreements with both jurisdictions.

However, displaying the logo on an organic product is voluntary so not all organic products have logos. Another way to know if a product is organic is to look for a ‘certified by’ or ‘certified organic by’ statement on the label identifying the certifying body.

What if you’re shopping at the farmers market and there are no labels? Then ask the producer to see their certificate. The name of the operation, a list of products sold by the operation, and a certificate issue date will be included.

If you have doubts about an organic claim, you can file a complaint with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to either the national or regional offices.

Why Do People Buy Organic Food?

Many organic consumers associate organic food “with a healthy and sustainable lifestyle[1]; 55% of Canadian consumers said their decision to buy organic was “influenced by recommendations from a health professional.”[2]

When comparing the nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food, the results of individual studies are often inconclusive. However meta-analyses compare the results of hundreds of individual studies. These show, organic meat[3]  and milk[4] contain approximately 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and organic plant-based foods contain 18-69% higher concentrations of antioxidants.[5]

Many antioxidants are linked to lower rates of degenerative diseases and certain cancers, and to more intense flavour; this may be why so many people say they prefer the taste of organic food.[6]

Whether people choose organic food because they feel it’s healthier or for the great taste, one thing is certain – the market is growing. In 2017, 66% of Canadian consumers bought organic products on a weekly basis this is up by 10% from 2015.[7]

[1] Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture. 2016. European Parliamentary Research Service.

[2]New Data From Canada Organic Trade Association Reveals Dramatic Increase In Canadians Buying Organic Products. 2017. Canada Organic Trade Association.

[3] ‘Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis’  2016. Dominika Średnicka-Tober et al. British Journal of Nutrition.

[4] ‘Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses.’ 2016. Dominika Średnicka-Tober et al. British Journal of Nutrition.

[5] ‘Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses.’ 2014. Marcin Barański et al. British Journal of Nutrition.

[6]  Do organic fruits and vegetables taste better than conventional fruits and vegetables? State of Science ReviewTaste of Organic Food. 2006. The Organic Center.

[7] Canadian Organic Market Report. 2017. Canada Organic Trade Association.

Why Does Organic Food Cost More?

The costs of organic production are often high because organic farming practices are labour-intensive.  Also, organic products are grown, processed, packaged and sold at smaller volumes than non-organic foods and often on smaller farms. As a result, economies of scale cannot be realized.

Organic livestock production, particularly, has higher costs than non-organic. Feed costs more, transportation costs are often greater because of the scarcity of organic abattoirs and dairies, and housing costs may be higher because organic livestock are raised at lower densities and must have access to the outdoors.

Consumers may pay more for organic food but much of that money stays in Canada’s rural communities.

Do The Standards Mean More Corporate Involvement In Canadian Organics?

The content of the standards is decided democratically by the Canadian General Standards Board’s Committee on Organic Agriculture. While there are some corporate voting members, each vote is equal. Download a list of the voting and non-voting members of the Committee on Organic Agriculture here.

What Do The Standards Say About Genetic Modification?

Genetic modification refers to a range of methods used in plant breeding to achieve a desired result.

Genetic modification includes traditional plant breeding methods such as selection and hybridization which are allowable in organic agricultural.

Genetic engineering (GE) is a type of genetic modification which involves moving genes from one organism to another. It is the intentional introduction of a gene in to a plant, animal or microbe to achieve a targeted change in its genome

Genetic engineering (GE) is not permitted under the standards (CAN/CGSB-32.310, 1.4. a). Any product that is certified under the Organic Products Regulations (OPR) cannot use genetic engineering methods, technologies or products.

In order to protect against GE contamination, farmers must demonstrate to their certifying body (CB) that they have done everything possible to prevent contamination from neighboring fields.

Effective protection against GE contamination seems virtually impossible for some crops. For example, canola pollen can drift up to two kilometres, leaving few locations in Canada where organic canola can be produced, yet we are discovering there seems to be some varietal incompatibility as some varieties do not cross pollinate as readily as initially speculated  (For more information, visit the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate’s Organic Agriculture Protection Fund. For other crops such as corn, organic growers can reduce GE contamination by late planting (to ensure that their corn comes into tassel at a different time than corn in neighboring fields).

Farmers are required to develop barriers or buffer zones to mitigate GE (or pesticide) drift from neighboring fields. The Canadian Organic Standards (COS) also requires that organic farmers use organic seed. If farmers are not saving and planting their own seed, they must ensure that their seed suppliers are certified as organic.. For some crops, it is extremely difficult for growers to obtain sufficient quantities of organic seed of the various varieties they want. Under these circumstances growers can use non-organic, untreated, GE-free seed. The untreated, GE-free status of the seed must be documented and the grower must have records proving that they could not find organic seeds for each non-organic seed supply used.

What Do The Standards Say About Pesticides?

Persistent synthetic pesticides are not permitted under the standards, as stated in CAN/CGSB-32.310, Clause 1.4.f.

Using pest control products is a last resort option in organic agriculture. Clause 5.6 in CAN/CGSB-32.310 makes it clear that growers need to enhance the health of the crop and use organic management practices before reaching for a pest control product.

Substances permitted  to combat pests are listed in the Permitted Substances Lists (PSL) (CAN/CGSB-32.311) including biological organisms such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) or mineral based compounds such as potassium bicarbonate or kaolin clay. See the Permitted Substances List for more details.

What Do The Standards Say About Irradiation?

Ionizing radiation is not permitted on food products or their inputs under the standards, as stated in CAN/CGSB-32.310, Clause 1.4.c. Any product that is certified as organic will not have been exposed to ionizing radiation, except as outlined in CAN/CGSB-32.311, Table 4.2, which states that ionizing radiation may be used on peat moss carriers before the addition of microbial inoculants.

Non-ionizing forms of radiation, such as microwave and near and medium ultra-violet rays, are not prohibited in the Standards, except to boil or sterilize tree saps.

What Do The Standards Say About Animal Welfare?

Animal welfare is an important concern for organic farmers. CAN/CGSB-32.310, Clause 6.1.5 states that, “organic livestock management shall aim to utilize natural breeding methods, minimize stress, prevent disease, progressively eliminate the use of chemical allopathic veterinary drugs, including antibiotics, and maintain animal health and welfare”.

Organic farmers must accommodate the health and natural behaviour of all animals in relation to their living conditions. Similar stipulations are made in relation to breeding, livestock feed, transportation, handling, slaughter, and health care.

CAN/CGSB-32.310, Clause 6.8 outlines the stocking rate, or minimal indoor and outdoor space required for animals. For example, battery cages for poultry are strictly prohibited. Synthetic growth regulators or hormones are also not permitted.

Clause 6.1.6 goes on and says “As a general principle, the operator shall demonstrate their commitment to animal welfare. When an animal welfare issue is identified, the operator shall develop a corrective action plan. The operator shall document demonstrated improvements in animal welfare practices and shall make available upon request any documents or assessments mandated by industry associations.”

What Do The Standards Mean For Aquaculture?

The Canadian General Standards Board has published voluntary national Organic Agriculture Standards (2012). The Standards outline the principles and management standards for organic aquaculture and provides a list of permitted substances for use in organic aquaculture in Canada.

The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations will enforce these standards when it is implemented in 2018.


Do The Standards Apply To Imported Products?

 Yes. Both the regulations and the standards apply to imported organic products.

Foreign countries and/or their certification bodies enter in to agreements with the CFIA who verifies that their organic standards and regulations are equivalent to Canada’s. Only then will a foreign organic product be allowed to enter Canada and be labelled as organic.

I Want To Import Certified Organic Products. How Does The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Assess Foreign Certifying Bodies (CBS)?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) assesses foreign certifying bodies by evaluating the equivalency of their standards and the Canadian standards. Equivalency determination with competent governmental authorities will be considered for countries that have regulated organic regimes. For countries with no regulated regime, the CFIA will recognize conformity verification bodies to accredit foreign certifying bodies (CBs) that will be certifying in these countries. In either case, the CFIA will require that a list of certifying bodies that are accredited to certify to the Canadian standards be submitted for administrative purposes. A more specific outline of the process and protocol for the certification of imported organic products is set out in the Canada Organic Office (COO) Operating Manual.

Equivalence can be defined as the acceptance that different standards or technical regulations fulfill common objectives. In negotiating equivalence with other organic standards, Canada will assess the gaps and determine variations between the organic standards using criteria for variations in standards. These criteria consider that all organic products must comply with organic principles, and accept that organic products can be grown in different agricultural, biophysical, and socioeconomic environments.

I Represent A Foreign Conformity Verification Body. Can We Accredit Certifying Bodies In Canada?

Yes. A foreign conformity verification bodies (CVBs) can recommend the accreditation of certifying bodies (CBs) in Canada once its system has been assessed as adequate by the CFIA  and it has signed an agreement for accreditation with the CFIA.

The conformity verification body assessment process and criteria are outlined in the COO Operating Manual. Assessment activities include an on-site visit. There are no fees for this assessment. Fees might be considered in the future upon consultation. Foreign conformity verification bodies do not require a Canadian office to operate in Canada.

Where Can I Get More Information On Import And Export Requirements?

You can find more information on the CFIA‘s website under the heading “What are the requirement for imported agricultural products?”.

You can also find more information about global market opportunities, export development and equivalency arrangements on the Canada Organic Trade Association website by clicking here.

Food Processors

Why Should I Certify My Crops, Products, Livestock, Feed Or Seed As Organic Under The Canadian National Standards?

Certifying your product as organic demonstrates that you have produced them according to national Standards – standards that uphold the highest respect for the health of the soil, environment and people.

To market products as organic and trade across provincial or international borders or in provinces with a mandatory regulation enacting the federal regulation, and/or bear the Canadian Organic Logo, the product must be certified as organic by a CFIA accredited certifying body.

For help understanding the Canadian Organic Standards, check out  COG’s Guide to the Canadian Organic Standards.

How Do I Certify My Organic Products?

Check out the graphic below for the basic steps to certification.

P.S. Organic agriculture is knowledge intensive!

You can begin learning about growing using organic methods and transitioning to organic using COG’s publications and courses.

For help understanding the Canadian Organic Standards, check out  COG’s Guide to the Canadian Organic Standards.

How Long Will It Take To Certify My Product As Organic?

The amount of time differs depending on your type of product.

For crops including fruit, vegetables pasture, grains, oil seeds, forage and in-ground greenhouses, etc., producers must demonstrate that no prohibited substances have been used on their land for at least 36 months before a product from it can be sold as organic and apply for certification within 15 months before the product can be sold as organic. A minimum of two inspections are required before an organic certification can be granted.

Dairy herds have a transition period of 12 months which can be completed at the same time as the land when the land 12 months away from qualifying as organic

Four legged slaughter stock must be organic from birth requiring the dams to be under organic management, on organic land by the beginning of the third trimester.

Two legged (birds) must be under continuous organic management from the second day of life.  Day-old chicks nor the fertilized eggs can be given another other medications except vaccines.

Apiaries have a 12 month transition for the hives.

Sprouts/shoots/microgreen operations, mushroom operations, and greenhouse container grown operations can be certified as soon as they are deemed compliant by a Certification Body.

Food, feed products manufactured, packed or labelled  or simply distributed, can be certified as organic as soon as the production system is found compliant by a Certification Body.

What Substances Can I Use In Organic Production?

You can find substances that are permitted for use in organic systems in the Organic Production Systems Permitted Substances Lists (PSL).

Substances, materials, and technologies that are prohibited for use in organic systems are identified in Part 1.4 of the Standards: General Principle and Management Standards (CAN/CGSB 32.310).

For help interpreting these standards, please consult COG’s Guide to the Canadian Organic Standards.

However, it’s not that simple.

 Brand names are not included.  Certification bodies are responsible to approve brand name products, not the standard.

How do you know if you can use a brand named product?

Some certifiers maintain internal brand name lists and they may know the status of the product you are considering. Some have public lists of inputs that are approved for use including:

There is also a cross linked resource that can be used to identify some allowed inputs.

Whatever your source of information, even if a product is listed as approved on any of these lists – be sure to get approval from your certification body before using it. That is the safest option to ensure that you are not using non-permitted substances which will jeopardize your ability to certify your product.

If you are in the transition period, apply to a Certification Body from the very beginning! That way you can verify with your certification body that you aren’t using prohibited substances during your transition period.

Will Certifying My Product As Organic Increase My Paperwork?

In the beginning, yes if you don’t have complete farm records already.

No matter what you will need to design your organic management plan, which will help you  set up your record keeping system. Most certifiers have record keeping templates, which is another good reason for  applying to a certification body from the get go, versus waiting the 21 months before submitting your initial application.

You will also need complete your certification body’s application, which may be called the organic questionnaire , the organic system, or the compliance plan.

It will get easier each year; especially if your certification body has a digital interface.

Ultimately, keeping good records has benefits that go beyond simply allowing you to meet the requirements of the Canadian Organic Regime (COR). They should help the bottom line!

My Product Is Not Certified As Organic But I Use Organic Growing Practices. How Does The Organic Products Regulations Affect My Marketing?

If you live in a province that regulates the term organic you are only allowed to use the term organic in your marketing if your products are certified by an accredited certifying body. This currently applies to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Manitoba. This will apply to British Columbia in November 2018 when the BC Food and Agricultural Products Classification Act comes in to effect. Up to Nov 2018 products sold in BC making a ‘certified organic’ claim or using the BCCOP checkmark/logo must be certified by a COABC accredited CB.

If you wish to trade your product across provincial or international borders and label them as organic they must be certified by a federally accredited certifying body.

If you make organic claims on products that are not certified, even in provinces where there is no regulation, you must still be able to prove that your products meets the requirement of the standards. Canadian food law prohibits food labelling which is deceptive regarding the production of the food or its other characteristics. Refer to the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.

How Can Organic Foods Be Processed Under The Standards?

The organic standards outline rules associated with the preparation of organic products.

Certain rules apply to processing regarding product profiles, ingredients, processing aids, cleaners/disinfectants/sanitizers, and pest control substances and are outlined in Clause 8 & 9 of CAN/CGSB 32.310.

Where Can I Find Information About What Substances Are Permitted In Organic Processing Under The Standards?

CAN/CGSB-32.310, Clauses 8 and 9 outline the rules associated with preparing and handling organic products.

CAN/CGSB-32.311, Clause 6 outlines specific permitted substances for use in processing organic products.

CAN/CGSB-32.311, Clause 7 outlines cleaning and sanitizing substances that can be used.

How Do I Certify My Processing Facility?

Step 1:
Identify the certifying bodies (CBs) in Canada approved by a Canadian Food Inspection Agency-accredited conformity verification body.

Step 2:
Identify your market (e.g. Canada only, United States, European Union, Japan, etc.) and identify which certifying bodies can certify you to the standards that you will need to access that market.

Step 3:
Contact a few different certifying bodies to compare their programs and to choose the best certifying body for you. Certifying bodies differ substantially in the services that they provide and in their pricing structures.

Step 4:
Talk to a few processors about their experiences with various certifying bodies.