Organic FAQ/ Statistics

What does organic mean?

Organic agriculture is a production method which promotes and enhances biodiversity, protects long-term soil health and reduces the impact of agriculture on climate change by encouraging carbon sequestration in the soil.

More about organic.

How do I know if something I buy is organic?

Certification bodies inspect and designate farms as “certified organic” based on a set of guidelines meeting or exceeding the minimum requirements set out by the National Organic Standard. No prohibited materials may be used for 3 years prior to certification. Once a business is certified organic, it labels its food with the name of the certification body or the certification number.

Canada has a federally legislated standard for organic agriculture which will limit the use of the word “organic” on products and provide a “Canada Organic” logo to be displayed on organic products.  The new regulation came into effect on June 30, 2009.

How does a farmer become certified organic?

Organic certification addresses the need for assurance that organic food is grown and processed in accordance with specified organic standards. A certification body assesses the farm or processing facility to ensure that it is adhering to these standards. In order to become certified, a farmer must not use any prohibited materials for 3 years prior to certification. The farmer pays a fee for an inspector to review the history and setup of their operation, and to conduct an inspection of their facility. If the operation is found to be in compliance with the standards, a certificate of certification will be issued. Annual updates and inspections are required to maintain certified organic status. Learn more about the certification process.

Why does organic cost more?

Organic food does not always cost more than conventionally grown products. In fact, many items are equivalent in cost to their conventional counterparts. However, there are several factors that make some organic items more expensive:

  • farming organically tends to be more labour intensive
  • organic production requires organic, species appropriate feed be used in raising animals
  • organic production avoids vaccines and veterinary drugs, which can make caring for livestock more cost intensive
  • no synthetic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers are used- farmers must invest in soil fertility
  • organic food distribution systems are less centralized, which adds costs to the final product when purchased through intricate food chains such as grocery stores

Learn more about the cost of organic food in this blog post.

I buy local, why do I need to spend more on organic food?

For a growing number of consumers, buying locally produced food is important. It supports people and businesses in or near your community, stimulates the regional economy, and can promote sustainability and biodiversity. Grassroots and government initiatives alike recognize the importance of building strong, local food networks.

All too often, however, consumers are presented with a choice of local or organic food. We may think just because we don’t always see it at the grocery store that organic food can’t be produced locally. In fact we should be looking at local and organic as a viable option. When you buy Ontario organic you are helping to grow a thriving and resilient local food system —  the best of both worlds.

Read more about how buying local organic food increases the benefits of buying local. 

I eat natural foods, and I see “raised without…,” “grass fed,” “corn fed,” and “naturally raised” on what I buy. What is the difference?

The guidance from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in labelling practices is that they must be “truthful and not misleading for consumers.” While it is the responsibility of the CFIA to govern food labelling, the organization takes a risk-based approach. This means that it is ultimately the responsibility of the regulated parties (i.e. retailers, food processors) to be knowledgeable of the regulations and comply fully. Operators must be able to substantiate the claim to the CFIA if inspected, but there is no mandatory or regulated certification process to use most method of production claims.

Natural refers to what happens to the food once it enters handling and processing areas, and speaks nothing to production methods in the field. Natural governs food additives, colourants and preservatives, NOT sustainability values in farming and processing. “Natural” products may contain GMOs- there is no standard to prevent their inclusion.

Organic is the only claim that is backed by a federally regulated standard you can trust.

Learn more about different label claims and how they compare to organic in our #MoreThanJust blog series.

Ontario Organic Statistics