Wayne Osborne of Omega Blue Farm showcases a vibrant green bunch of kale and a cinderella squash on Saturday at the Qualicum Beach Farmers’ Market. Osborne has long been an organic farmer and has some concerns about looming changes to the industry.

Defining organic

The provincial Ministry of Agriculture is looking to regulate the term 'organic'

In an age of artisan crackers and gluten-free everything — what does it even mean to be organic?

That’s what the B.C. government is trying to figure out.

The Ministry of Agriculture is looking to regulate the term “organic” through a certification program that would see standards put in place for farmers who want to call their practices and products organic.

Currently, companies with organic products may choose to participate in the B.C. Certified Organic Program, which is administered by the Certified Organic Association of B.C. (COABC). However, it is in no way mandatory for farmers to go through this program to call their food organic.

The looming changes have at least one Spider Lake farmer concerned about legislating the word organic.

“That is like telling a Christian that they cannot call themselves Christian unless they attend church every week,” Wayne Osborne said in a letter sent to The NEWS and COABC.

Osborne owns Omega Blue Farms, a 10-acre organic farm north of Parksville that specializes in heritage poultry and produce. His products can often be found Saturdays at the Qualicum Beach Farmers’ Market.

Organic farming, he explains, at its grassroots level “was basically farmers saying ‘there’s got to be a better way to grow food, we’re not poisoning our customers and our families.’”

Osborne said as time went on, organic food gained a sense of commercial value, and with that came the need for developing standards for organic farming.

“Unfortunately it sounds like the legislation is going to tell those organic farmers that don’t follow the certified organic business model that they are no longer organic,” he said.

“The problem is the standards for organic farming are being written for global trade interests not for the local community.”

Osborne said if consumers are buying directly from a farmer — say at the Qualicum Beach Farmers’ Market — they have the opportunity to ask the producers questions about their farming practices face-to-face. Moreover, he said people can stop by many local farms, including Omega Blue Farms, and physically see what kind of practices they are using. In those cases, going through the process and paperwork to certify your farm as organic may seem unnecessary and redundant.

According to Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Robert Boelens, under the government’s new model producers — including direct farm sales and farmers’ markets — that are not certified under the provincial certification program would not be able to use the term “organic” to describe or market their products.

But Osborne said “taking ‘organics’ off our signs won’t take it out of our hearts, we are still organic at our core.”

A government-issued news release confirmed the Ministry of Agriculture is consulting with the organic sector, including COABC, about developing “a three pillar approach to strengthen the awareness and reputation of B.C.’s organic foods, locally, across Canada, and around the world.”

The release said the proposed changes will require all products marketed as “organic” in B.C. to be certified under either a provincial or national certification program. The ministry stated there will be a cost incurred to the producer that will depend on individual circumstances and the conditions of the farm in question.

The idea, according to the release, is to create “a brand to market B.C. organic foods.”

“Legislating the word organic makes business sense,” said Osborne. “I just fear that the approach could do more long term harm to the brand than good…It appears after all like it is throwing away the organic community’s grassroots core.”

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