The Organic Industry: An Update from your Co-op

The Organic Industry: An Update from your Co-op

If you keep up on news headlines you’ve no doubt seen various stories recently in the press criticizing the integrity of organic products.  For example, the article about the Burnaby bakery knowingly and falsely claiming their products were organic. This media coverage sheds some light on what are some very real and serious threats to Certified Organic – but unfortunately it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Probably because the whole story is complex.  For the past three years the Co-op has been involved in behind-the-scenes advocacy, discussion and debate around the status of organic foods with diverse groups such as the Certified Organic Association of BC (COABC,) the Canadian Organic Trade Association (COTA,) the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA,) the Provincial and Federal Governments, and many legitimate organic industry stakeholders.

While we have a high degree of confidence in the products we sell due to our screening process we are concerned about other retailers with less stringent buying practices.  Of particular concern is products sold as organic by processors where the processing facility itself is not certified organic.  This could be rectified by tighter Federal and Provincial legislation in combination with strict enforcement and meaningful and defined punishment for offenders.

Here is an excerpt from letter we sent to our elected officials, politicians with pertinent portfolios, the President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the CBC.

“I believe weak Federal legislation that allows organic claims from uncertified processors is the root of the problem.  The CFIA must shoulder much of the blame for this for not working with the Federal government and burgeoning Organic Industry to fix the legislation and close loopholes.  It is not for lack of trying by the Organic Industry.”
-Joe Karthein, Operations Manager

But it is not all doom and gloom!  The Co-op’s Buying Guidelines, plus our large network of contacts within the Industry, keep our shelves virtually free of fraudulent products.  That said, products, ingredients and ownership can change. This is where our careful research and questioning kicks in;  we have pulled five product lines from our shelves in the past three years.  This might be why you won’t see certain products on our shelves!  In the example of the Bakery sited above, the Co-op would never have allowed that product to be sold in our store without it being certified by a reputable certifying body.

Here is an excerpt from our Buying Guidelines regarding Certified Organic and it clearly outlines the steps we take to keep fraudulent products out of our store:

Certified Organic:

Our unwavering commitment to Certified Organic foods stretches back to our inception in 1975.  Purchasing Certified Organic foods is the best way to avoid GMO contamination, support healthy food and farm systems on a large scale, and ensure that there is third-party oversight of production and distribution methodologies from the soil right through to our store.

•    We require a current certificate from a reputable third-party certifying agency from all vendors claiming their product to be certified or containing Certified Organic ingredients if the certifying body is not listed on the package.

•    Products or ingredients listed as “organic” but not Certified Organic will not be considered.

•    Commencing January 2014, all major distributors of Certified Organic bulk or repackaged bulk products are required to have their processing facility achieve and maintain Certified Organic status.

Organic foods with origins outside of Canada are another story – actually worthy of a separate article. But suffice to say we have a lot of confidence in the rigid USDA organic program in the USA which is where the overwhelming majority of our organic imports come from.  Mexico is so intrinsically linked with the US that confidence is reasonably high.  As always, your best bet is eating as locally as possible.

If you have any questions, please get in touch.  We work hard to keep our shelves stocked with only incredible goodness!

Joe-web-Joe Karthein, Operations Manager