The market for organic food is growing rapidly. The latest data shows organic sales in Canada have tripled since 2006 to 3.7 billion dollars a year.
Matthew Holmes, Executive Director of the Canada Organic Trade Association said, “What we often deal with in the sector is not enough supply to meet that demand. We’re constantly trying to find new organic farmers and suppliers.”
The biggest demand is for organic fruits and vegetables followed by organic beverages. The demand for organic grains and cereals are also strong. Organic beef is relatively low at one to two percent of total organic sales however it has the fastest growing demand of any sector.
“There’s certainly a strong consumer for organic meat,” Holmes said, “Meat that’s been raised without hormones or antibiotics in the feed, meat that’s been pastured and has access to the outdoors.”
He said an increasing number of consumers want to know where their food was made, how it was made, how the livestock were treated and what inputs or amendments were used in growing the produce or raising the livestock.
“Organic offers that transparency and an audit trail so consumers know every ingredient in the process has met the organic standards, has been inspected and certified and can be tracked back to its origin,” Holmes said.
In 2009, at the industry’s urging, the federal government implemented national standards and label requirements to uphold consumer confidence in organic claims.
“You used to see lots of different organic claims or logos that could be a little bit confusing,” he said. “Now you know that everything imported into the country and everything sold here is meeting consistent, federally regulated and inspected national standards.”
Although only about two percent of Canadian farms are Certified Organic the number is increasing. Holmes said the Canada Organic Trade Association tracked the census of agriculture and discovered that while the total number of Canadian farms fell 17 percent between 2001 and 2001, the number of organics increased 66.5 percent.
He said farmers must go through a conversion process to become certified organic producers. Not using things like genetically modified organisms (GMO), toxic chemical pesticides and herbicides, synthetic fertilizers. He said a number of things are not allowed. There are also other requirements, including contacting the certifying body. It can take three years to complete the process.
Holmes said, “In the final year once their land has been cleared of those prohibited substances the certifier has to inspect them to the national standard to make sure that they’re fully compliant.” But that’s not to say that the entire farm has to be organic. Holmes said many producers who sell conventional product have organic plots. However the two cannot be mixed.
“Canada’s also a major exporter of some of those grain and pulse products like wheat, soybeans and lentils,” he said. “We’re a provider to many of the organic markets around the world of high quality Canadian organic grain.”
Holmes sees a bright future for organic food. “It’s probably the strongest growth food sector in North America right now in terms of consistently growing every year, even through the recession. We think it’s a great future for farmers,” he said. “We are encouraging people to think organic and give it a try.”