Posted  1 Apr, 2019 
In: News

For the last several months, people across Canada have been talking about the organic standards. Farmers, inspectors, and other foodies have spent hours discussing proposed revisions to the Canadian Organic Standard and Permitted Substances List. “The review is going relatively well,” says Hugh Martin, the chair of the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) known as the “Technical Committee” (TC).
The TC has had three conference calls so far. The first call covered procedures and four recommendations. On the second call, the committee accepted or rejected 26 working groups’ recommendations, but decisions were made on only 8 recommendations on the third call. Why so few? Several recommendations were returned to the working groups for further work, such as editing the text or conducting background research.

Hugh Martin,
Chair of the Committee on
Organic Agriculture
The TC has made decisions on 37 of 200+ recommendations, with the working groups investing many hours into developing detailed responses to all the petitions. It’s hard to pinpoint where we stand in terms of progress: the TC may resolve some recommendations in five minutes, while others remain unresolved after hours of discussion.
How Does this Review Differ from Past Ones?

Five years ago, revision of the standards were accomplished during four three-day, in-person meetings with the TC, along with conference calls among the working groups. This time, the TC meetings have been done primarily through conference calls, with a single in-person meeting held in March.

In this review, more volunteers are involved in the working groups. This is a positive change, despite the longer discussions and debates. With a mix of organic sector insiders, newcomers, and farmers, it becomes more difficult to reach a consensus. Working Group Chairs later present the recommendations to the Technical Committee. This is a challenging job, particularly for contentious issues such as artificial lightingparallel production or outdoor access for poultry.

Standards Review Team (March 20th-21st, 2019)
The Larger Picture“We don’t want rules that are so difficult that it puts current organic farmers out of business,” says Martin.  He respects the views of the farmers who say they “don’t want to be forced to do unnecessary paperwork.” Aiming for a standard that will help farmers get into organics and enable farmers to “scale up” will increase the supply of Canadian organic food and increase opportunities for Canadians.
Animal welfare is another major issue. “With the first Canadian standard, the animal welfare requirements were much more strict than those in the conventional industry,” says Martin. “But as the conventional industry improves the way they handle animals, the differential between conventional and organic production methods has been reduced. We also have to consider the economics of the standards. We don’t want to price ourselves right out of the market,” he adds.
Next Steps

In mid-February, the CGSB emailed TC members 108 recommendations. They were given ten days to review and to provide their comments by email, which were then tabulated. Presenting recommendations by email is a new process, introduced to simplify the review process and to meet the deadline described below. The hope is that most of the recommendations will be approved by the members of the TC. If critical issues are raised, the recommendation may need to go to back the committee.

At the end of March, the TC met to review 83 recommendations. There will be a final conference call in April to analyze any recommendations that were sent back. The outcome will be released in the summer for a 60-day public consultation period. The public feedback will be shared with the Working Group chairs, who will determine if the comments have already been addressed or if they are significant. In the Fall, a draft of the standards will be sent to the members of the TC, who will have a month to review and vote on whether to accept the standards.

“If people want to reject the standard, they must list which issues they have problems with. If these views have already been addressed in working group or TC meetings, they will be non-persuasive. However, if someone brings an entirely different twist to the recommendation, the point will need to be reviewed” (Hugh Martin, 2018).
The new standards will be accepted if 50% plus 1 of TC members who are eligible to vote cast affirmative votes. After that, the CGSB does a final edit, before November 2020, when the new standards will be published.

The Funding Issue

The review of the Canadian Organic Standards is a rigorous process overseen by the CGSB, whose service costs for this review are covered by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). In August 2018, then-AAFC Minister Lawrence MacAulay announced that AAFC would contribute up to $300,000 to the Organic Federation of Canada (OFC) for studying the funding mechanisms needed for the sustainability of the organic associations. The funding is also intended to support the industry’s involvement in the review of the Canadian Organic Standards.  The review led by the industry needed to be completed prior to March 31st, 2019, when the CAAP funding ended.

The AAFC contribution under the CAAP needs to be matched with funds from the industry. A fundraising campaign has been launched by the OFC to generate the matching cash contribution.

Technical Committee Members (March 20th-21st 2019)

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