Sitting Around the Organic Table

Deep in organic thought

One of the things I love most about farming is the never-ending opportunity for growth. Not just the wonderful growth I see all around me – plants, animals, the development of our farm in general. But the growth of me as a person. I get to learn about things I never really even considered.

One such opportunity recently came along: I am now on the Canadian Organic Standards Revision Technical Committee on behalf of the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN). In mid-December, we had the first of four 3-day meetings that will take place over the next 2 years.

Sure, it sounds kinda dry. And I never really saw myself sitting in a big boardroom, surrounded by the bigwigs of the Organic scene (did you even know there were bigwigs of the organic scene? I didn’t.).

But it was awesome! (And yes, I am a geek!) I learned about so many things to consider when each organic “rule” is written. Like, if we make it too strict, will anyone be able to even follow it? And, if we make it too open, will some people find loopholes around it? And what do other countries’ (our “trading partners”) organic standards say?

I learned a lot about the parts of the organic “chain” that I’m not really involved with (companies who make packaged goods, maple syrup producers, and big scale organic egg farmers, for example).

I learned that each word and each comma or period or hyphen matters (thank goodness the things I write/ramble about don’t require the same amount of scrutiny!).

And I learned a whole new world of things that I have no idea about and want to learn more about. And for this I need your help. I want to know what you think about the following topics. As a voting member on the Committee, I am not representing myself. So, I need and want your input. You, as an organic eater or as an organic farmer (or processor, or retailer…) have very valuable thoughts, ideas, and opinions for me.

So, tell me what you know/think about some of these topics that were discussed at the recent meetings:

  • Waxed cardboard boxes…compost or landfill….what’s more organic? Right now, waxed boxes can’t be added to a compost pile used on an organic farm. And they’re not recyclable. So, they mostly get thrown out once they’re no longer usable.
  • Fortification: do you think they should be used in organic packaged goods? Right now only organic milk and white flour are allowed (because they are required by law) to be fortified. You know what I mean…when a product says “Fortified with Vitamin A” for example. The term ‘Power Bar’ or ‘Energy Bar’ apparently can’t be used unless there are fortifications added. Does this put organic products at a disadvantage compared to non-organic products? Are fortified products more nutritious than their organic counterparts? Or do fortifications create an imbalance of nutrients (because it’s no longer “as nature intended”, it’s “as some human beings intended”)? Are you wary of the actual ingredients in a Fortification?
  • Do you think the standards for organic honey are too strict? 3000 m around a beehive is the distance around which no genetically engineered crops or crops sprayed with synthetic pesticides may be growing around the hive to allow it to be organic. Is this reasonable? Necessary to maintain purity? Is it even possible to maintain purity? Would keeping the hive away from GE or synthetically sprayed FLOWERING crops be enough?
  • Treated wood. Big-time juicy issue within the Committee. In the Prairies, untreated wood that will last for any length of time is really hard to get and/or crazy expensive. So, not really “commercially available” for farmers buying thousands of them for pasture land fence posts. But there is a strong concern about areas with wet soil (or that sometimes floods and/or turns into a watercourse) because of the high likelihood of stuff like arsenic leaching into the water. There is also concern with the manufacturing of the chemical treatment (that it’s cancer-causing for the workers in the factories) and the health problems for the people working in the mines.
  • Hydroponics: ok, so hydroponics (growing without soil) is not allowed in organics. It seems like there are consumers and retailers who want organic hydroponics. So why isn’t it allowed? Because organic farming is all about the soil: a wonderful, complex, living soil that is so amazing that no one can create a food grown outside of it with the same balance and complexity of nutrients. (Sprouts aren’t considered hydroponic because they don’t use added nutrients.) However, there was discussion about the possible importance of hydroponics in places where soil is a limiting factor (ex. Yukon and Labrador). And for urban farmers. Though of course, not being able to certify a product as organic doesn’t prohibit anyone growing it just as a local product.
  • If you are a farmer that produces organic haylage or silage, what acids are you using as a preservative (if any)? What products are you using? And why did you choose that type over another?

I have a few other special requests: Any wild blueberry farmers interested in certifying organic…what would you change/add to the Standard to make it make sense for you?

Do you have a strong interest in raising organic rabbits? If you have the expertise and a bunch of phone/email time to commit, there is a “Working Group” being formed to create specific Standards for organic rabbits.

Any Maritimes maple producers want to join the “Working Group” on Maple (so far it’s basically all producers from Quebec)?

Now, I’m sure a lot of you have opinions about other parts of the Organic Standard. And I want to hear those too (though please keep in mind that I am a full-time farmer and my role on this Committee is a volunteer one). I heard once that, under Canadian law, silence is considered consent. So, please, don’t be silent!

To read the full report on this past meeting, go here.

Organic Standards Revision Committee

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2 Responses to Sitting Around the Organic Table

  1. I am concerned that the large scale organic chicken producers are slaughtering them too young.
    Is there anything in the standards about this.
    As organic farmers and consumers I think we need to give a decent life time…otherwise it is like veal and other immature beings.
    please get back to me

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