Giving certification some teeth

By Kelly Carmichael (volunteer contributor)

When the Organic Council of Ontario asked me to interview farmers and other organic business people to collect their thoughts on Bill 153 (the Organic Products Act), I relished the idea of interviewing Dave Meli, executive butcher at the Healthy Butcher – downtown Toronto’s go-to organic butcher shop. I have long held their practices in high esteem, so it was my pleasure to ask him what he thought about the proposed legislation introduced this September.

“Feel-good” products

Organic integrity has always been important to the Healthy Butcher’s business. When they opened their doors in 2005, local residents were primed to buy ethically raised meat that you can feel good about buying and eating.

In fact, the co-presidents of the business, Mario Fiorucci and Tara Longo,​ ​wanted so badly to instill customer confidence in their product, they certified the whole store as organic. They later dropped the certification when they realized it wasn’t really being enforced, Meli explains. They wondered why they should pay such a steep price for a label that had no teeth. They also wondered what was stopping others from using the term organic when the standards were not being upheld by the certifying body?

Regulation can boost consumer confidence

Meli told me he thinks Bill 153 is a good initiative for the organic movement. “It’s important to go after people who abuse the label. We would like to see more assistance for the truly great organic vendors and producers.”

For those unfamiliar with Bill 153, it’s designed to strengthen organic labeling through better regulation and inspection. The goal is to build stronger customer confidence in what people are buying, protect those investing in the label, and root out those abusing the label.

Regulation is needed because when farmers see the organic claim unfairly used, some organic farmers drop certification while conventional farmers are discouraged from transitioning to organic. The Healthy Butcher aims to carry only certified organic products. They source direct from farmers and then butcher and fabricate in-house. If they cannot obtain certified organic meat, then they research and ensure that products are coming from sustainable farms that are as close to certified organic as they can find.

Like artisanal meat vendors around the world, their products are showcased in glass meat counters where the customer can browse a display of enticing, freshly butchered, unpackaged meat. It provides a unique experience held in the long tradition of getting to know your butcher and the farms where your meals come from.

Making it work: Supporting small businesses

When I asked Meli if any of this will change with the legislation he wondered how he will display the organic meats beside non-certified products? Would organic meats now need to be pre-packaged to guarantee that products do not get mislabeled? Would they need to go all-organic with certification at the price of losing other products? Would they need on-site certification? Or the less desirable option, would they need to drop organic all together.

“Don’t get me wrong” says Meli. “I want teeth in the bill.”

But is there a way to get stronger regulation while also ensuring that businesses like Meli’s aren’t impacted to an extreme degree?

As the proposed bill stands, there is room for consultation and flexibility in the introduction of the regulation. While organic and non-organic products will likely have to have separate displays and be treated or processed differently, the goal of this bill is to ensure organic businesses get treated fairly – and OCO is committed to making sure that they do.

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