Canada Organic Farming Certification

Part
01
of two
Part
01

Canada Organic Farming Certification - Requirements

Organic certification by QAI and CCOF involve quite similar processes of applying, review of the application by a certified specialist, on-site inspection, review of data provided in the form alongside the inspection report, feedback to the applicant in case of missing information or need for clarification, certification, and annual re-inspection of all on-site operations. For QAI, the certification process takes about 8-10 weeks after QAI receives all data required for review as well as payment, while for CCOF, it typically takes 6-10 weeks or less for special cases.

METHODOLOGY

We first performed an exhaustive search through the websites of QAI and CCOF to find all the requested information. However, we found that there's limited public information available to address the request due to the very specific nature of the research criteria. We switched gears and consulted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to find more organizations that can legally certify farms/crops as organic to identify steps/requirements. Here, we were able to get a compiled list of certification bodies accredited by the CFIA. However, consulting each organization on the list also did not yield the requested information such as what a non-organic farm would have to do/change to meet the requirement/complete the step, whether there are any differences if the farm in question is a rice farm and any associated costs that may be necessary for each step/requirement. At this point, we adopted the following strategies to look for requested info.

We began by visiting the organic certification pages, overviews, guidelines, steps, process and requirements on the website of each organization accredited by CFIA that provides organic certification such as QAI, CCOF, Ecocert Canada, FVOPA, BCARA, CSI, among others. However, we are not able to find any sufficient data or specific examples to address the requested information. What we found were the broad steps/process/requirements that need to be taken to be certified organic (we have included these in our findings below). There was no case-to-case basis, steps, or guidelines for each type of produce available in any of the organizations' websites we scanned. We also checked each organization's FAQ to see if the requested info had already been asked and answered by the organizations but to no avail. What we were able to find via this approach was how long it takes to be certified organic and some associated costs, as well as the cost of organic certification for two organizations — QAI and CCOF.

Next, we scanned through each organization's publicly available case studies and white papers hoping to find a breakdown of what a non-organic farm would have to do to be marked as “certified organic” in Canada, including if there are differences if the farm in question is a rice farm and any associated costs. This approach was unsuccessful as most of the available case studies and white papers were not related to the requested information but focused on topics like usage and documentation of non-organic ingredients in organic products.

We then opted to do a press search to look for any interviews and news covering the requested topic via external sources such as Forbes, Globe Newswire, organic certifications organizations/associations like Organic Consumers Association, and some parent organizations of the certification bodies accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency like NSF International, the parent body of QAI. However, this strategy also did not yield useful information. What we found were some general steps and standards to have organic certifications, guidelines or best practices for becoming a certified organic producer, some company news for organizations like QAI and other info that are irrelevant to the request.

Most of the organizations ask applicants to apply via their online application forms to properly assess the specific questions because requirements, steps, processes, and types of certification may vary depending on the type of produce. Also, QAI has a list of organic industry consultants on its website; we assume that they are suggesting that applicant should first consult a consultant to get appropriate responses to their specific questions on how to acquire their organic certification by industry and locations.

FIVE STEPS AND PROCESSES TO GET THE ORGANIC FARMING CERTIFICATION OF QUALITY ASSURANCE INTERNATIONAL (QAI)

1. APPLICATION: The process begins by completing the application forms and submitting associated documents. QAI uses this to understand the products, organic practices, and operation scope of the applicant.
2. INSPECTION: The next step involves QAI's verification of the information provided in the application along with an on-site inspection to confirm that the applicant's practices are in line with organic regulations. Following certification, QAI would require annual on-site inspections.
3. REVIEW: The inspection report is then evaluated by a QAI technical reviewer who issues non-compliances if deviations or inconsistencies are noted.
4. RESOLUTION: If non-compliances are issued, QAI the notifies the applicant's company allowing it to present a timely resolution.
5. CERTIFICATION: Finally, if the inspection and technical review are successful, the applicant is given an official, numbered certificate and is granted permission to use the organic mark.

STEPS AND PROCESSES TO GET ORGANIC FARMING CERTIFICATION OF CCOF

1. APPLICATION: The first step is to submit the CCOF certification application which is known as an Organic System Plan (OSP). The application helps the applicant to understand the required organic standards and describe their organic practices.
2. REVIEW: The next step is the review of the application by a CCOF certification specialist who assesses whether the applicant can continue with the organic certification. The certification specialist notifies the applicant if anything is missing or if there is a need to provide more clarification.
3. INSPECTION: The inspection is aimed at verifying that the details provided by the applicant in the OSP are being practiced.
4. REVIEW OF THE INSPECTION REPORT: CCOF certification specialists then review the inspection report alongside the applicant's OSP for compliance and accuracy.
5. CERTIFICATION DECISION: If the review process is successful, CCOF sends a letter informing the applicant of their certification status including any requirements for ongoing certification.
6. ANNUAL RENEWAL CONTRACT AND INSPECTION: Following certification, annual inspections of every operation, as well as annual certification fees, are required to remain certified. Companies must also continuously update CCOF on any OSP changes, new labels, or other operational changes.

HOW LONG IT TAKES TO BE CERTIFIED ORGANIC

QAI:

It takes about 8-10 weeks after QAI receives all data required for review as well as payment. Different levels of rush services are also available. However, there is no information on whether the timeline varies on the type of produce.

CCOF:

It typically takes 6-10 weeks or less for special cases. The length of time depending on how complete the application is when submitted, the complexity of the applicant's operation, and how quickly the applicant responds to any requests for information that come up during the review process.

ASSOCIATED COSTS AND COST OF ORGANIC CERTIFICATION

QAI:

Various factors such as the size of operation and location determine the fee for QAI’s organic certification. The actual fee for an application is determined after an application goes through the review process.

CCOF:

Routine certification for small farms and processors costs between $600 and $1,800.


Part
02
of two
Part
02

Canada Organic Farming Certification - Certification Differences

While there is no specific information on the costs associated with the certification for QAI “Transitional Certified Organic” label, the Organic Council of Canada states that it is between $600 and $1000 for small producers (10 acres or less). The Certified Transitional certification from Quality Assurance International (QAI) is a program in which agricultural operations can enroll during their transition to organic. The QAI, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) is the only other body that offers a transitional certification at this time. Below, we provide an overview of QAI's transitional program, followed by a comparison of their transitional program versus a normal organic certification.

RESEARCH STRATEGY

We did not find information on the specific steps for certification of QAI Transitional Certified Organic label, and costs associated by the process, hence could not make comparisons (regarding the same) with the rest of the certification programs.
We began by reviewing general industry publications on relevant sources such as the Canadian Industry Growers and Canadian Industry Standards to determine the steps to the ‘Transitional Certified' Label certification. While we found general information and requirements for getting the certification, we did not find specific information on the steps involved as well as associated costs. Possible reasons for the missing data may be because they are particular information only provided and publicized by the relevant agencies.
As an alternative strategy, we resorted to focusing on specific agencies responsible for the certification process. We reviewed relevant bodies’ websites like the Organic Council of Canada from which we found descriptions of the certification and what it entails. We also found relevant information on the steps involved in the overall certification process as well as the costs. The process was, however, not specific to the Transitional Certified Organic Label. The research team also reviewed the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), from which we found a list of third-party bodies accredited by the CFIA to perform the certification process. Information specific to costs and steps of Transitional Certified Organic Label was not available possibly because the agencies play a more oversight role than being directly involved in the certification process.

We switched gears to focus specifically on the third party bodies accredited to perform the certification process. We consulted sites of institutions like CCOF Certification Services, LLC (CCOF), Centre for Systems Integration (CSI) and CCPB Srl among others. While these sites detailed their services, they did not provide information on the processes involved in the certification and the amounts they charge for certification.

We concluded that the information is unavailable as because third party bodies that conduct such certifications have varied charges that are dependent upon several factors. Hence, we relied on information provided by the Organic Council of Canada as estimated from a survey. We therefore decided to include the general cost of certification and steps of certification as outlined by the Organic Council of Canada as a proxy for the information required on the steps for certification of QAI Transitional Certified Organic label and costs associated by the process.

Transitional Organic Certification: Overview

QAI first launched the transitional organic certification program in 2016, in light of a growing demand for organic products and an insufficient number of certified-organic agricultural operations to meet that demand. In addition, QAI notes that the three-year transition period required for non-organic operations to become organic is often cost-prohibitive for small and medium-sized operations. Its certified organic certification program spans the three years of this transition period, allowing companies to use the 'Certified Transitional' label "in year 2 when [crops have been] harvested after completing the 1st year of transition."

The 'Certified Transitional' label "raises awareness with consumers, provides more choices in the marketplace," and, crucially, "allows premium pricing to be distributed down to the farms in transition." This premium pricing can offset the costs of transitioning to organic. Currently, QAI and CCOF are the only bodies that offer a transitional certification. CCOF's transitional program is essentially equivalent to QAI's, utilizing the same three-year time frame and providing enrolled agricultural operations with a 'Certified Transitional' label to be used prior to becoming fully organic.

Transitional organic vs. organic

The key difference between transitional organic and normal organic certifications is that organic certifications are only awarded to agricultural operations that meet all the relevant organic standards. (In Canada's case, this is the Canadian Organic Regime.) Conversely, operations enrolling in the transitional program gradually adopt the relevant organic standards over the three-year period. This process is detailed in QAI's Transitional Certification Protocol, which explains the year-by-year requirements for enrolled organizations. The protocol is not publicly accessible, but can be accessed by request, and an overview of the protocol is available in an infographic provided by QAI. Generally, these steps are as follows:

  • First, operations must "immediately discontinue the use of prohibited synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and begin the process of rebuilding healthy soil biology."
  • Additionally, "land must be farmed without the use of GMOs or sewage sludge."
  • In the first year, "a self-assessment is completed by the operator and QAI assesses the production systems being implemented and opportunities for improvement."
  • Throughout the program, "QAI’s protocol mandates on-going education to learn the necessary tools and techniques for sustaining a farm utilizing organic practices."
  • The operator "fine tunes the transitional system production plan implementing best practices that maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality."
  • In year 2, the operation may begin using the 'Certified Transitional' label on its products.
  • By the third year of the program, the operation "has successfully implemented all requirements of the transitional protocol," and inspections by QAI have verified this.
  • Three years after the last banned substance was applied, the operation may be certified organic.

COST OF ORGANIC CERTIFICATION

According to the Organic Council of Canada, certification costs vary from one party to the next. However, the OCO’s 2017 sector-wide survey results revealed that most people pay between n $600 and $900 as the certification charges for small scale producers.

STEPS OF CERTIFICATION

ADDITIONAL INSIGHTS

Ultimately, the transitional organic certification is, as its name implies, a temporary label used only through the second and third years of the transitional program. It is similar to a traditional organic certification in that the relevant organic standards are employed in both cases — there are no special or in any way less-rigorous standards applied to transitional operations. Additionally, in both cases QAI conducts inspections to ensure that operations are maintaining the relevant standards (or, in the case of transitional operations, to ensure that operations are meeting the required yearly benchmarks in the program).

The costs of organic certification from QAI are highly variable, because they depend "on various factors (e.g. size of operation, location, etc.)." After completing and submitting an inquiry form, the operation seeking certification will receive an application that includes a quote and a fee schedule; operation-specific fee amounts will be provided based on the completed and submitted application. As such, specific pricing information for organic certification is only made available once an agricultural operation applies for certification, because that pricing information relies almost entirely on individual aspects of the operation in question.

QAI partnered with relevant organizational sites like the CFIA and the USDA, as well as Kashi, when the transitional program first launched. Like the normal organic certification, the transitional program's costs are likely highly variable. The inquiry form that an operator must fill out and submit to receive an application and a quote includes a box to check if the operation is seeking transitional status; this is likely the only way to determine the cost of receiving a transitional certification.

Conclusion

QAI's transitional organic certification program is a three-year program that covers the years needed for an agricultural operation to transition from non-organic to organic. In an operation's second year in the program, it may utilize the 'Certified Transitional' label on its products, which can allow for premium pricing to offset the costs of transitioning. Unlike a traditional organic certification, operations meet the relevant standards gradually, instead of being required to meet them upon application. Still, the same standards are applied; there are no reduced standards for transitional operations. Organic certification costs are highly variable and depend largely on factors specific to individual operations; while no pricing details for the transitional program could be found, its pricing is likely similarly variable.
Sources
Sources

From Part 02
Quotes
  • "QAI’s Certified Transitional program provides certification to recognize and incentivize farmers to transition their land from conventional to organic growing methods. Currently, less than 1 percent of U.S. farmland is organic and farmers are struggling to meet the growing consumer demand for organic food. While organic products can fetch higher prices, it takes three years for a farm to transition from conventional to organic, and typically farmers are not compensated for the initial costs of incrementally converting their land."
  • "What’s unique about QAI’s program is that products made using at least 51 percent certified transitional content are allowed to use the QAI Transitional mark on their packaging. This raises awareness with consumers, provides more choices in the marketplace and allows premium pricing to be distributed down to the farms in transition."
  • "QAI’s Certified Transitional can certify organizations that grow, produce, manufacture, process and trade in food and beverage, dietary supplements, cosmetics, household cleaners and textile products. To ensure farms are progressing through the program, QAI uses unannounced audits and sampling, and sets increasingly rigorous requirements for year 1, year 2 and year 3 of the program. The goal is that transitional farms become certified to organic standards in year 3 and graduate out of the program."
Quotes
  • "We ask you to provide details about your operation to help us understand the scope of your operation, the procedures you follow and the products that your company produces, processes or trades. At this stage, you should submit your signed contract, transitional compliance plan, self-assessment and affidavit of date of last application of prohibited substances."
  • "If your application is approved by QAI, we conduct an on-site inspection of your operation to verify the information in your application and documentation. You may be able to use your current organic inspection rather than having an additional visit, if you are already organic certified. [Then,] a QAI Reviewer examines the inspection report and if we identify deficiencies, we will notify you."
  • "Applicants should submit corrective action responses. QAI will then review the corrective action responses, and approve them if they rectify the deficiencies identified during the inspection. Once you’ve successfully completed the process, you will either receive a Letter of Enrollment (if you are a producer and less than 1 year of transition has been completed) or a Certification (if you are a producer with at least 1 year of transition completed, or a handler). Organizations receiving the certificate, can start promoting their certified products."
Quotes
  • "To kick off the process, complete the application forms and submit supporting documentation. This helps us understand your products, organic practices and operation scope. Let us know if you want other certifications such as gluten-free or non-GMO."
  • "QAI verifies the information on your application and conducts an on-site inspection to confirm your practices are consistent with organic regulations. When you are certified, annual on-site inspections will continue to be required."
  • "A QAI technical reviewer evaluates the inspection report. If deviations or inconsistencies are noted, non-compliances are issued."
  • "QAI will notify you of non-compliances and your company will have the opportunity to provide a timely resolution."
  • "After successfully completing your inspection and technical review, you will receive an official, numbered certificate and will be able to use the organic mark!"
Quotes
  • "Many people choose organic products to find a sense of ease around their food purchasing, especially in times such as this. Organic has become the fourth largest food and feed commodity in America, according to the USDA, but there aren’t enough farms growing organic food to keep up with demand. There were over 18,000 farms with organic certifications as of 2017, a seven percent increase over the previous year, but still less than 1% of American farms have organic certification."
  • "A new verification— Certified Transitional — has been created to encourage more farmers to make the leap into organic production. One of the biggest barriers to farms becoming certified organic is the 36 month transition period any farm must go through before being granted certification by USDA-accredited agents. While farms transition to organic practices they are producing decreased yields, putting in extra work to regenerate soil and transition equipment and using significant capital without getting paid the premium prices commanded by certified organic crops."
  • "Certified Transitional labelling began in 2016 through a partnership between Quality Assurance International (QAI) and natural cereal brand Kashi as a way to pay better premiums to farms transitioning from conventional to organic practices. “By creating a certification program with an on-pack label, brand owners could help educate consumers to the need [for increased organic acreage] while providing a financial premium to farmers during transition,” explains Tracy Favre, Global Director, Certification Services for QAI."
Quotes
  • "QAI provides organic certification for products sold in Canada through the Canadian Organic Regime (COR) and the Quebec Organic Reference Standards, and can help you leverage your USDA organic certification via the U.S.-Canada Equivalency Arrangement."
  • "Operators based in Canada who want to claim their product as organic must be certified to COR. The main standard documents for this certification are Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards (CAN/CGSB 32.310-2015) and Permitted Substances List (CAN/CGSB 32.311-2015)."
  • "For operators based in the province of Quebec, compliance to Quebec Organic Reference Standards is overseen by the Conseil des appellations reservées et des termes valorisants (CARTV). Quebec's scope is the same as COR with some additional requirements. For certified operators shipping product to Quebec, the rules, including labeling, are outlined in the Quebec Organic Designation Specification Manual."
Quotes
  • "The fee for QAI’s organic certification depends on various factors (e.g. size of operation, location, etc.). A fee schedule is provided with the QAI application for organic certification. The actual single fixed fee is determined upon review of each application."