Thinking of going organic? If you're one of the millions of Canadians who buys organic food believing it's purer, more nutritious and more sustainable than regular food, you'll want to read the in-depth
report Dr. Patrick Moore and I wrote for The Frontier Centre.
It saddens us to say, but it turns that a bevy of federally-regulated, for-profit, organic certifying agencies sell the privilege to organic farmers, brokers/traders and processors to label their products as "certified organic." Once the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) logo is affixed to these products, hefty premiums of 100 to 200 per cent are garnered at the store shelf. And not a single test is performed.
It's a completely politicized privilege that anyone - whether honest or not, whether here in Canada or literally anywhere in the world - can qualify for as long as they pay the fees and fill out the paperwork.
Tests to ensure prohibited substances are not being used are never performed. In fact, as Moore and I reveal, staff at the CFIA did behind-the-scenes testing on organic foods for sale in Canada and were so taken aback by the results that they tried to suppress them. A whopping 24 per cent of samples contained prohibited substances.
There was a time when the CFIA considered testing all organic crops and livestock on a routine basis to ensure they were genuinely organic. But the idea was dead-on-arrival; this in spite of the fact that the cost of testing is one-tenth that of the current paper-based system of record-checking.
Nonetheless, the Harper government gave a whopping $180,000 to The Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA), a branch office of the Vermont-based Organic Trade Association, and another $152,000 to The Organic Council of Ontario (OCO). Neither group supports organic field testing, a seemingly illogical position perhaps, until you understand the following.
By relying exclusively on paperwork, Canada's for-profit organic certifiers enjoy a highly effective way to collect revenues from their clients, revenues which in turn provide donations to groups like COTA and OCO. So it's no wonder they oppose testing.
It gets worse. Organic farmers and processors operating under CFIA "rules" also pay royalties to their private certifiers between one and three per cent on their gross revenue from each and every transaction.
This is akin to the franchise fees the owners of fast-food restaurants pay to their head offices, the difference being that Canadian organic farmers and processors are, as mentioned, paying for the use of the CFIA's logo on their finished products, not the certifier's. And yet, the CFIA requires no testing. None.
Organic certifiers weakly enforce administrative rules of organic production. Independent inspectors make pre-announced visits once a year to each farm and facility being certified.
I was myself an organic inspector for five years. But, again, inspectors don't test; they just fill out paperwork.
Why would federal officials and politicians in Stephen Harper's government let the CFIA's good name be abused in this manner? With revenues in excess of $2.8 billion last year, surely the organic industry could begin to stand on its own. Instead, all Canadians - even those who never buy organic food - are forced to subsidize this system in a myriad of "creative" ways they probably never dreamed were even possible.
Field testing of organic crops and livestock before they're shipped to market is long overdue in the Canadian organic sector. The Americans are gearing up to start organic testing.
So if organic certifying agencies in Canada don't start routine field testing, the importation of cheap "organic" products from outside the country will continue unabated, rendering Canada a dumping ground for untested food that's organic only on paper and in no other meaningful sense.
You can access our report on the Canadian
organic industry at www.fcpp.org/files/1/PS143_OrganicNitemare_OC31F2.pdf.
Mischa Popoff is a freelance writer and certified organic inspector.