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Organic food product classification

From a production standpoint, there are various categories of production methods. In Canada, there are three main classes of production labels: (i) organic, (ii) transitional organic, and (iii) all other labels regrouping local, natural, pesticide-free and ecologically friendly. The first product class is well defined and regulated since 2009, while the second and third categories are neither - clearly - defined nor regulated.

The use of the term “organic” is restricted to farms, products, processors and other intermediaries in the value chain between production and consumption which has been certified by Certifying Bodies (CB). These CBs are independent and private fee-for-service agencies that are generally overseen by National Food Inspection Agencies. Organic certification is an arduous process which, if enacted on a farm previously farmed using conventional methods, requires at least three years to ensure all chemicals have leached from the soil and that organic amendments have had the opportunity to rebuild soil fertility.

“Transitional organic” is also a restricted label and describes farms which have made the commitment to move toward organic certification. For instance, the "transitional" label is applied to farms label is applied, for example, to farms which have switched to certifiable organic methods and are in the 36-month period between the last use of chemicals and the time the land can be assumed free of chemicals, and the farm can be certified organic.

Labels like “local”, “natural”, “pesticide-free” and “ecologically friendly” are not regulated and tend to be used by small farms catering to local/regional clientele. With the exception of marketing board-regulated products like dairy or chicken, production and handling of foods sold under these labels is for the most part not monitored or regulated except by governmental agencies and district health units. As a result information on farms operating outside of the organic certification system is scattered and incomplete.

Lastly, “organic” foods have to be differentiated from “functional” foods [4]. Organic foods tend to be regulated and are based on supply side value while functional foods are not very regulated and are based on demand side value. While both types of product are marketed to achieve the same objective, i. e. healthy products, the market positioning is very different.


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