Organic Certification in BC

Welcome to the COABC's overview of the organic certification process. You will find information on how to select the certification body appropriate for your needs. You can access the standards you need to as well as learn the difference between the British Columbia Certified Organic Program and the Canada Organic Regime. Logo options are outlined and the certification application described. You will learn where to look for interpretations of the standards, discover some preliminary FAQs and some sector listserves.

Selecting a certification body

To apply for organic product certification in British Columbia, first think about where your products will be marketed: within British Columbia, within Canada, to the USA, the European Union, Japan or elsewhere.

For products traded exclusively within BC, consider a COABC regionally accredited certification body (CB):

Bio-Dynamic - Province wide
BOPA - Boundary Area
IOPA - Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands
KOGS - Kootenay Area
LEOGA - South Okanagan, Similkameen
NOOA - Province wide
SOOPA - Simillkameen, South Okanagan
STOPA - Shuswap Thompson Area

To access markets outside of BC, a CFIA-ISO accredited certification body (CB) is required:


Canadian Organic Standards

The certification standards for organic agricultural products intended for human and livestock consumption sold in Canada are contained in two documents:

It is important to note that reading the principles and management standards is pivotal to understanding the permitted substances lists (PSL).

If producing exclusively for an export market, talk to your CB.

British Columbia Certified Organic Program

The British Columbia Certified Organic Program (BCCOP) is a voluntary agri-food quality program sanctioned by the Government of British Columbia through the Organic Agricultural Products Certification Regulation under the Agri-Food Choice and Quality Act. The BCCOP was launched in 1993.

Management Standards for the British Columbia Certified Organic Program

All organic products certified under the BC Certified Organic Program (BCCOP) are produced according to the Canadian Organic Standards, which COABC adopted in 2006.

COABC's Book 2 - the Organic Management Standards for the BC Certified Organic Program contains the rules specific for the BC Certified Organic Program including the use of the BC checkmark. Book 2 complements the Canadian Organic Standards adopted by COABC as it provides extra guidance and information regarding certification procedures and product labelling requirements of the BCCOP.

Canada Organic Regime

The Canada Organic Regime (COR) is Canada’s national regulated system for organic agricultural products, developed in collaboration with the government and the organic sector. The Organic Products Regulations (the Regulations) define specific requirements for organic products to be labelled as organic and/ or that bear the Canada Organic logo. The regulations came into effect on June 30, 2009.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), represented by the Canada Organic Office, is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the Regulations. Under the Regime, Certification Bodies (CBs) are accredited based on the recommendation of CFIA designated Conformity Verification Bodies (CVBs). The Certification Bodies are responsible for verifying that operators adhere to the Canadian Organic Standards.

The Canada Organic Office (COO) Operating Manual contains policies and procedures of the COR. The manual provides an overview of the procedures and policies governing the relationship between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Conformity Verification Bodies (CVB),as well as the procedure to accredit certification bodies (CB) and to certify organic products.

For complaints regarding organic claims under the purview of the COR, complete the COO Complaint Form and submit it to the Canada Organic Office directly at OPR.RPB(a)inspection.gc.ca.

Complete details about the Canada Organic Regime can be found on CFIA's Organic Product website, including information on COABC’s CVB status under the COR.

Logo options

The ‘Checkmark’ logo is the official mark / symbol of the BRITISH COLUMBIA CERTIFIED ORGANIC program (anchor to BCCOP section below). It, along with the phrase ‘British Columbia Certified Organic’, can be used to identify products produced in BC and that contain >95% certified organic ingredients, and are certified by COABC accredited Certification Bodies.
 
Operators who are ISO certified may use the Canadian Organic Regime (anchor to COR section below) logo on products with >95% organic content.

BCCOPCOABC
CFIA-ISO
Non COABC
CFIA-ISO
Products certified as organic by an ISO Certification Body (CB) are considered compliant with the federal Organic Products Regulation and may display the Canada logo if desired. These products may also carry the BCCO checkmark. Organic products certified under a CB’s Regional Program may only display the BCCO checkmark.

Click here for further information on the use of the BCCOP official mark, even if you are not a certified operator or supplier.

Similarly refer to CFIA's Labeling of Organic Products – Questions and Answers for further insights.

Interpreting the Canadian Organic Standards

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in partnership with the Organic Federation of Canada, has created - the Standards Interpretation Committee (SIC), an advisory body that helps to interpret of the Canadian Organic Standards (CAN/CGSB 32.310 and CAN/CGSB 32.311).

  1. Q&As. SIC’s binding interpretations for a diversity of topics.
  2. Q&As under Comment Period. There is a 60 day comment period for newly proposed SIC Questions and Answers. The CANReg Listserv, a cross country information sharing service, provides notifications of new comment periods.
  3. Submitting a question. Guideline on how to get your questions answered.
  4. COABC's Accreditation Board has also answered some questions.

Always check with your CB or email Susan.L.Smith@gov.bc.ca for more information about the standards.

The certification application process – an overview

The basic steps to apply for certification are the same for all CBs and the process is repeated annually. A brief overview of the process is provided here. For more detailed instructions please contact the CB of your choice. Please note that COABC itself is not a CB, it accredits CBs.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to get certified?

Land must not have been treated with a prohibited substance for at least 36 months before a product from it can be sold as “organic”. New applicants seeking ISO status for their crops must apply at least 15 months before the product can be sold as organic, while BCCOP applicants may be able to label their crops as organic within the same calendar year of application.

Bee colonies, dairy and slaughter breeding herds have a 12 month transition requirement which can be satisfied simultaneously as the final year of land transition.

Food processing, sprout production, and container grown systems can be certified once the CB has completed the inspection and is assured there is compliance.

How do I know what prohibited inputs are?

The Permitted Substances Lists (CAN/CGSB 32.311) include an extensive inventory of acceptable inputs and identifies any restrictions on an inputs use. If the substance you are looking for is not listed, it is not allowed to be used. See also "What is the difference between the Permitted Substances Lists and brand name products?"

Who will come to inspect my farm?

All Verification Officers (VOs) working for COABC CBs must be current members of the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA). This association is responsible for training inspectors world-wide to perform inspections on operations from orchards and gardens to cattle ranches, distribution centers through to complex processing plants. The inspectors are committed to organic farming practices and exercise the highest level of integrity for confidentiality and professionalism. Other CBs recognize IOIA training, but do not make IOIA membership a requirement. All CBs require VOs to keep their credentials and skills current.

How much will organic certification cost me?

The costs vary amongst the CBs. You will need to ask each CB about your particular circumstance. If considering a COABC CB, be aware that there is an additional fee for COABC membership. The COABC membership fee is calculated on a sliding scale based on gross organic income and is collected by the CB annually on COABC's behalf.

Can I grow organically in one part of my farm only?

The Canadian Organic Standards, allow split farming, but prohibit parallel production (i.e. organic and non-organic production of the same crop). Some COABC Regional CBs do have whole farm policies. Be sure to check with your CB.

What veterinary health care products can I use for organic livestock production?

The Permitted Substances Lists (CAN/CGSB 32.311) allows the use of Health Care Products and Production Aids in Table 5.3 under the various categories of Anti-inflammatories, Biologics (including vaccines), Homeopathic and Biotherapies, Parasiticides and Anti-microbials, Plant oils. For further insights, refer to the Animal Health Care Products and Product Aids document which provides a more complete listing of substances commonly used in organic livestock husbandry, along with some specific recommendations of acceptable practices.

What is the difference between the Permitted Substances Lists and brand name products?

One of the most challenging tasks in organic certification is determining whether or not a commercial brand name product is allowed. The CAN/CGSB 32.311 Permitted Substances Lists (PSL) only identifies generic substances that can be used with or without restrictions. At this time neither Canada nor the USA have a unified national brand name directory, making it difficult to readily know if a brand name input or ingredient is okay to use.

Some certification bodies (CBs) maintain their own brand name product databases indicating whether or not an input is acceptable– be sure to ask your certification body if they maintain one. There are some third party lists that operators may use as references, but your the CB is your final authority. Using non-permitted substances and input products will jeopardize your ability to certify your product.

Another option is to ask your own CB to review the product documentation you have secured from the supplier. Sometimes it is challenging to obtain sufficient product ingredient details from suppliers since they consider it competitive information and may be unwilling to share the details. Current third party brand name resources:

  • The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) launched an OMRI Canadian Program in 2013, building on the success of its American program where it reviews, approves, and lists inputs compliant to the USDA Organic Program. Products compliant to the Canada Organic Standard that apply to OMRI for Canadian approval status are identified and listed on the OMRI Canada Products List©. CBs are the final authorities for input approval. Be sure to check with your CB even if a product is OMRI Canada Listed.
     
  • Other lists
    The following are compilations of products reviewed by various CBs or institutions, and could help you identify compliant inputs of interest. These list also need to be used with caution, especially as most references to OMRI reflect inputs compliant to the USDA Organic Program. Therefore continue to practice due diligence and always check with your CB.

Listserves

The COABC listserve is a forum for organic farmers and like-minded folk to exchange ideas and share information, and post questions/answers in regards to organic production, marketing issues, current issues, events and more. Click here to learn more about the COABC listserve and how to subscribe.

Consider subscribing to CanReg Listserve, a cross country information sharing service dedicated to the federal regulation and standard, and national organic industry issues. Click here to subscribe and here to remove yourself from the list serve.