Organic agriculture 32/20

Standards 32/20

The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Organic Agriculture was sponsored by the Standards Council of Canada to develop new editions of the Organic Production Systems standards. The recent editions published in 2015, made available with this funding free of charge are available for downloading:

Status in regulation

As of June 30, 2009, the Organic Products Regulations require mandatory certification to the revised National Organic Standard for agricultural products represented as organic in international and inter-provincial trade, or that bear the federal organic agricultural product legend (or federal logo). For more information regarding regulation, please contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and consult the Organic Products Regulations, 2009 (SOR/2009-176) (Statutory Orders and Regulations).

Organic agriculture standards development history

First edition (1999)

In December 1996, the Canadian Organic Advisory Board, an industry group representing the interests of groups of organic farmers and certification bodies throughout Canada, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) approached the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) to develop a National Standard of Canada (NSC) for organic agriculture. The CGSB established the Standards Committee on Organic Agriculture (the "Committee") that prepared and reviewed six drafts of the standard between January 1997 and March 1999. The national standard entitled Organic Agriculture (CAN/CGSB-32.310) was published in June 1999.

The national standard outlined principles for organic agriculture that endorse sound production and management practices to enhance the quality and sustainability of the environment, and ensure the ethical treatment of livestock. It also specified the minimum criteria that must be met when food products, inputs and other products used in organic production are defined as organic, or by comparable wording described in this standard.

Second edition (2006)

In 2002, in order to facilitate trade with major partners including the European Union (EU), the United States (U.S.) and Japan, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) requested that the CGSB revise the National Standard of Canada (NSC) for Organic Agriculture. The revisions were intended to ensure that the Canadian standard met the requirements of these trading partners.

Comparative tables of the EU, U.S. and Japan regimes, the United Nations' Codex Alimentarius Commission "Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling, and Marketing of Organic Food", and the Canadian standard, were prepared and considered by Committee members in developing the revised national standard. Additional issues considered during this revision included provisions made to the standard because of expected reference in regulations.

Two national standards were published in September 2006: CAN/CGSB-32.310-2006, Organic Production Systems – General Principles and Management Standards, and CAN/CGSB-32.311-2006, Organic Production Systems – Permitted Substances List.

Second edition amendments (2008, 2009 and 2011)

The 2006 edition of the national standards were amended three times. The amendments were required to address items from the previous revision that were placed on a Future Work List. These items include the removal of references to and the discretion of Certification Bodies throughout the standard, clarification of technical requirements, and the addition of new technical requirements and substances to the Permitted Substances List. The Canadian Organic Growers Inc. sponsored the revision, with funding obtained from the Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).

As well, in 2006, the Organic Products Regulations were put in place by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), requiring additional changes to the standards.

Third edition

The CGSB Committee for Organic Agriculture was re-established in 2013 to produce new editions of the two standards. The committee selected Mr. Hugh Martin as the chair of the committee. The committee addressed several hundred work items over two years and four meetings, held in Gatineau and Vancouver. The new editions were published in November 2015 and included a committee motion to develop a process to update the Permitted Substances List on a more frequent basis while still adhering to requirements of a National Standard of Canada.

Frequently Asked Questions

Note: These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) address only the process that the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) uses to revise the organic agriculture standards. For information on generic CGSB process questions, see Standards Development. Other departments and agencies of the Government of Canada are responsible for addressing issues that are outside of the CGSB's mandate. Where the CGSB cannot provide an answer, it does indicate where further assistance may be obtained.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Organic Production Systems Standards

Why is it important to have Canadian standards on Organic Production Systems?

A single, consensus standard recognized by producers, users and government has many advantages. They include easy identification of product ingredients through labelling and common language, promotion of user confidence, and representation of a variety of views and expertise.

The aims of the Organic Production Systems standards are:

  • to protect consumers against deception and fraud in the marketplace, and unsubstantiated product claims;
  • to protect producers of organic products against unsubstantiated claims or misrepresentation of other agricultural products as being organic;
  • to ensure that all stages of production, preparation, storage, transportation and marketing are subject to inspection and comply with these standards;
  • to harmonize Canadian provisions for the production, certification, identification and labelling of organic products with international ones.

Is the 2015 edition of the standards voluntary or mandatory?

All National Standards of Canada are voluntary standards. However, some CGSB standards have become mandatory because they are referenced in regulation by a regulatory body or in procurement schemes.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency - Organic Products (CFIA) developed and put in place the Organic Products Regulations, 2009 (SOR/2009-176). The 2015 edition of the standards is the foundation on which the national federal regulation is built, and is referenced in the regulation.

What do the standards cover?

CAN/CGSB-32.310, Organic Production Systems – General Principles and Management Standards, describes the principles and management standards of organic production systems. This standard outlines the principles of sound organic farming systems throughout the production, processing, storage, transportation, labelling and marketing stages: the production of high quality food using sustainable management practices, which avoid damage to the environment, and ensure the ethical treatment of livestock.

The standard specifies criteria that must be met when food products and other inputs used in organic production are described as organic, including production, processing and handling of organically produced foods. These minimum requirements must be met or exceeded in order to meet this standard for organic agriculture. The standard includes sections on Definitions and Terminology; Organic Plan, which includes Record Keeping and Identification; Crop Production; Livestock Production; Specific Production Requirements; Preparation and Handling of Organic Products; Emergency Pest or Disease Treatment; Labelling and Claims, and the Requirements for Adding or Amending Substances in CAN/CGSB-32.311.

The standard does not cover issues such as implementation and regulations, which are outside the scope of the Standard Committee on Organic Agriculture's mandate. CAN/CGSB-32.311, Organic Production Systems – Permitted Substances Lists, provides lists of substances that are allowed for use in organic production systems. It is not a list of commercial products.

What substances are permitted and prohibited for use in organic agriculture?

CAN/CGSB-32.311, Organic Production Systems – Permitted Substances Lists, includes the following substances lists:

  • Crop production including fertilizers, plant foods, soil amendments, crop production aids and materials, and weed management
  • Livestock production including feed, feed additives and feed supplements, health care products and production aids
  • Processing and sanitation including organic ingredients, non-organic ingredients and with organic ingredients, processing aids, cleaners, disinfectants and sanitizers, and pest control substances.

The application and use of these substances must be in accordance with the requirements outlined in CAN/CGSB-32.310, Organic Production Systems – General Principles and Management Standards.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Standards Committee on Organic Agriculture

How were the members of the Standards Committee on Organic Agriculture chosen?

All Committee member organisations that developed previous editions of the standard were invited to continue as members. The CGSB then compiled an additional list of potential members using association indexes, government indexes, Web sites, conference information, media sources and discussion with the sponsor. The CGSB sent potential members a letter to invite their participation and their suggestions for membership.

Who is on the Standards Committee on Organic Agriculture?

The Standards Committee on Organic Agriculture includes over 100 technical experts representing user, producer, general interest and regulatory groups. Forty members of this Committee are voting members. The other technical experts are information (non voting) members.

Who chairs the Standards Committee on Organic Agriculture and how is the chairperson chosen?

The Standards Committee members select their own chairperson. The current Chairperson is Hugh Martin. He is an independent consultant in the organics industry, after having been with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

Other Organic Frequently Asked Questions

Do the Organic Production System standards affect Canada's trade agreements?

This question should be directed to Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Do Canada's trading partners have to comply with the Organic Production System standards in order for their organic products to be accepted in the Canadian marketplace?

This question should be directed to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

What requirements must be met to import or export organic products?

This question should be directed to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

What other international requirements for organic agriculture exist?

Several international requirements exist, including those of the European Union Standard, the Japanese Agricultural Standards, the U.S. National Organic Program, and the Codex Alimentarius Commission "Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling, and Marketing of Organic Food". Some of these are under equivalency agreements with the Canadian Organic regulations. Please contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for more information.

What is the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission?

The Codex Alimentarius Commission develops international food standards to protect consumer health and to facilitate fair trade practices in foods. The Codex Alimentarius Commission was established in 1962 by the World Health Organization and by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Where can I obtain information on the certification process and certification bodies?

This question should be directed to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.