What does it mean for food to be certified organic?

By Gabrielle


I hope you got a chance to read my previous article introducing myself a bit. In this article, I’d like to go a bit deeper into what the organic certification means, and what we should look for. There is a lot of information out there, and it could become confusing. Fear not! We’ll go through this together.

There are many different organic certifications because most countries have their own now, but the consensus as to what is allowed or not allowed is very similar. So even when you buy products certified by other countries, you can feel good about what you are buying. The Canadian organic certification is, however, considered one of the best in the world, with very high standards that growers, farmers, producers, and companies must adhere to. In Canada, the certification is regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Those certifications have issues, they are there to protect us and we can feel good about supporting and using them. It’s also a great opportunity to go and meet your local organic farmers and talk to them about what they do.

According to the Canadian General Standards Board website:  “Organic production is a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock and people. The principal goal of organic production is to develop operations that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment.”

Organic Agriculture is based on the following general principles:

Principle of health – Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plants, animals, humans and the planet as one and indivisible.

Principle of ecology – Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

Principle of fairness – Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regards to the common environment and life opportunities.

Principle of care – Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

To have the organic certification, farmers must pay an annual fee to apply and receive it. Regular inspections will be done to make sure they follow all the guidelines. The standards for the organic certification are strict and usually do not allow any synthetic substances, whether for plants or animal production.

The philosophy upon which the organic movement started means that the farmer should be working with the soil and nature instead of trying to control it. This helps prevent soil erosion. This means the farmer is expected to work with natural materials to nourish the soil by:

  • Using crop rotation, a technique where the farmer must plant a different crop every year to ensure the soil maintains a healthy balance of nutrients
  • Composting
  • Using manure from organic animals for fertilizer
  • Avoiding the use of all synthetic fertilizers

The growers can use natural and non-synthetic treatments for pest control, but no synthetic pesticides (including insecticides and herbicides). The use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and nanotechnology is also prohibited in the organic certification standards.

Many people don’t realize that the organic certification standards also apply to the production and processing of the products. For example, the use of synthetic wax is not approved for organic fruits and vegetables (i.e., apples); the producer must instead use an organic wax, such as beeswax or carnauba wax. Many synthetic additives are also prohibited in the organic processing of food products. Unfortunately, not all products containing organic ingredients have to follow all of these rules. If the processed product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, they don’t have to comply.

Luckily for us, many companies that make processed products have made a commitment to use quality, healthy ingredients that we can feel good about.

Join me next month for my next article as we explore more benefits from living an organic lifestyle! Go organic! GoPure!