By Tim Kalinowski
Alberta’s organic foods industry is welcoming the provincial government’s recent adoption of Bill 7, the Supporting Alberta’s Local Food Sector Act.
“We have been working toward this since 2009,” said Organic Alberta executive director Becky Lipton. “In June of that year the federal government brought in its organic regulation standards, and they applied to everything that goes across a provincial or federal border.
“However, there was the regulatory gap which existed within the provinces. All the various provinces have been working on this since then to try to fill that regulatory gap.
“The significance of having the regulation as standard across the country as well as within all of the provinces, including Alberta now, is it really standardizes the entire industry, and so everybody who is using the word ‘organic,’ or making an organic claim, is following those organic standards.”
Lipton says her members are pleased the act has also been given teeth to enforce the proper definition of “organic” in the provincial food industry.
“The importance is two-fold,” she says. “The most important piece is consumers are getting what they are paying for. If it says organic then it is held up to those standards, which leads to consumer confidence.
“The second piece of this is it levels the playing field. So if you got somebody out there using an organic label or claim, but they are not following the organic standards—are not having that third-party certification where an inspector comes out and verifies their claim, or somebody is fraudulently using the word—it requires all producers to abide by the same rules.
“So it protects the market and the (certified) businesses, too. It provides integrity to the market.”
The new regulations mean those using the term “organic” in their products improperly will have to either remove that label or go forward to get officially organically certified in Alberta. If they do not comply, they may face official censure or possible fines.
Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier downplayed those possibilities and chose to instead focus on the positive attributes of a vibrant local food industry in Alberta.
“We are going to have a pretty light touch here in Alberta to ensure people who want to grow organic are able to meet those standards,” he explained.
“We want to work with them to ensure that they are able to do what they want to do, and at the same time maintain the confidence of consumers.
“So, yes, those (enforcement) powers are there, but I suspect we won’t have to use them.”
Carlier said the Alberta organic food industry is an important and growing sector in agriculture, and by insisting on these standards the province aims to help it remain strong and growing going forward.
Carlier also said creating a consistent standard for organic food was only one part of Bill 7. The other part of the bill acknowledges the local food sector as a whole in province, and moves to establish a local food council to advise the Agriculture Minister on how to enhance the industry.
“Nominations are now open for people to be nominated themselves, or to perhaps nominate their friends and neighbours, on a local food council which will explore more options to see what we can do on the promotion of local food,” he said..
“There are a lot of producers out there which don’t necessarily want to become organic, which is fine, but what else are they doing? Are they doing grassfed? Raised naturally? Or whatever else those terms mean?
“I look forward to meeting with this council to be able to continue to explore what more can be done in terms of promoting what local food is.”
Nominations for Alberta’s new local food council are open until July 12.