Organic tensions at farmers’ market

What is and what is not organic a hot-button issue amongst local growers

  • Sep. 19, 2012 8:00 a.m.

Kris Chand said tensions are running high at the Qualicum Beach Farmers' Market.

When Qualicum Beach residents head to the farmer’s market on Saturday, they’ll get a chance to learn all about the organic sector of the local agricultural scene.

However, said Kris Chand of Blue Heron Farm, they might also notice some tension in the air.

Chand, who sits as the vice chair of the Certified Organic Associations of B.C., said the issue of what is and what is not organic produce has proven to be a hot-button topic amongst local farmers.

 

“It’s a very divisive issue,” Chand said. One farmer has a huge banner declaring his products as organic and he told me it’s perfectly legal in B.C. and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. If this isn’t a situation causing conflict, I don’t know what is.”

The problem, he said, involves the definition of what is and what is not certified organic produce.

“Currently in B.C the province allows farmers and producers to label their products as organic without being attached to a certification program,” Chand said. “At a federal level, certified organic farmers are not allowed to use the words ‘certified organic’ and must label their products with the word ‘organic’ only. This is leading to some confusion in the marketplace.”

Chand said his farm is certified organic and it irks him to see other producers calling their produce organic without going through the process he did.

“It’s personally disturbing for somebody who spent so much of my energy to bring about some positive benefit to the community in terms of having a thriving local market and I am very disappointed personally when I am put in a situation where some of the farmers are pushing an agenda. It’s very emotional for many people.”

Canadian organic standards require organic farmers and processors to keep detailed records of their procedures, production, materials and ingredients. In order to be certified, they are inspected at least one every year.

Chand said it is the jurisdiction of the province to regulate the organic sector, but a trip to Victoria a year ago to push for B.C. to follow the federal model of certification was unsuccessful.

“Currently in B.C the province allows farmers and producers to label their products as organic without being attached to a certification program,” Chand said. “At a federal level, certified organic farmers are not allowed to use the words ‘certified organic’ and must label their products with the word ‘organic’ only. This is leading to some confusion in the marketplace.”

Chand said his farm is certified organic and it irks him to see other producers calling their produce organic without going through the process he did.

“It’s personally disturbing for somebody who spent so much of my energy to bring about some positive benefit to the community in terms of having a thriving local market and I am very disappointed personally when I am put in a situation where some of the farmers are pushing an agenda. It’s very emotional for many people.”

Canadian organic standards require organic farmers and processors to keep detailed records of their procedures, production, materials and ingredients. In order to be certified, they are inspected at least once every year.

Chand said it is the jurisdiction of the province to regulate the organic sector, but a trip to Victoria a year ago to push for B.C. to follow the federal model of certification was unsuccessful.

“Quebec said farmers can only use the term ‘organic’ if they are certified organic,” he said. “We asked the B.C. caucus to please regulate the word ‘organic’ in the same way as Quebec has done, so consumers who go to buy organic produce know they are buying third party-verified organic products. However, the B.C. government has done nothing. This is totally deplorable. I can’t use any other word for it.”

Chand said the problem doesn’t lie with the market, but rather with the province, but the impacts of inaction have been felt at the market stalls.

“At the market there is an atmosphere of tension,” he said. “I have to be very careful. I have spent two years on this, thinking about it, calming down some of the strong, opinionated people. The problem is not the market. The problem is Victoria and that’s where it needs to be solved.”

To this end, he and his group are lobbying municipal politicians who plan to attend the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting.

“We are sending a press release to every mayor across the province for the UBCM and informing them of what is happening and asking them to talk to whoever they have to talk to.”

 

The bottom line, he said, is that people who are willing to pay a little more for produce that is organic should be able to be confident that the produce is, in fact, organic.

 

 

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