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We’ve all read the claims on food labels — but what do they really mean?

“Organic,” “free range,” “raised without hormones”: Albertans are inundated with claims about the origins of their food

Jun 9, 2014

by Allison Myggland

In 2009, the Canadian government responded to consumers and producers clamouring for a regulatory system for organic production and labelling. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) unveiled the Organic Products Regulations, which define requirements that must be adhered to for a product to bear the Canada Organic logo. While the regulations are comprehensive and set clear and enforceable standards, there are significant weaknesses in the enforcement system that ought to concern consumers and producers alike.

At the same time, Canadian consumers are inundated with products that make individual claims like “raised without hormones” and “antibiotic-free.” Why make those when the concerns are addressed by the organic regulations? Part of the issue results from the fact that farmers and other producers have to apply to be certified organic producers. |The CFIA, after creating the rules, handed off certification to outside organizations. These operate for-profit businesses that require producers to buy memberships, pay for ­inspections and submit yearly fees to maintain certified organic status. Also, while these bodies are responsible for inspecting farms and processing facilities, the CFIA must ultimately prosecute those that defraud consumers.With all that in mind, we try to bring some clarity to what it all means.

Pesticide-free?

On-site inspectors are not responsible for testing for pesticide residue. Those responsibilities remain with the CFIA. And in the five years that the Canadian organic standards have been in effect, in spite of finding pesticides on a large percentage of the products tested, the CFIA has never brought forward test results to any of the responsible certification bodies for followup with the producer.

Consequence-free

In January, Mediterranean Bakery in Burnaby, B.C., was found in non-­compliance when an inspector found that it had been labelling its bread as “organic” for years, despite using conventional white flour. The owner could have been charged under the Food and Drugs Act for deceptively labelling, marketing and selling the bread, but top officials at the CFIA decided not to prosecute.

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