Are organic farms actually organic?
Published Tuesday, April 29, 2008 2:57PM PDT
Mischa Popoff is an organic inspector on a mission. He's critical of the organic industry for not requiring yearly lab tests to prove organic farms are really organic.
"It's an honour system, and its bureaucratically based on paper," he says,
As an organic inspector he's visited five hundred farms across North America.
"In five hundred inspections there were twenty-five cases that were very, very questionable, either fraud or negligence," Mischa admits.
Five per cent of the organic farms he visited appeared to violate organic rules, but he says no follow up tests were done.
Does that mean five per cent of organic farms are breaking the rules? Nobody knows.
"I'm sure the honest ones are in the majority and they are being wrong done by even if it is only five per cent. Even if it's only one per cent that are breaking the rules, why should they get a free ride on everyone else's back?" he asks,
That free ride could be over. In December, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will begin random testing of organic products.
CFIA spokesperson Michel Saumur says they will act if they find banned chemicals, "If it's intentional what the organic product regulation gives us is it gives us the authority to suspend or cancel the certification."
That's a costly end for an organic farmer.
Mischa Popoff likes what he hears, but thinks it should go further, "It should be one test per farm per year."
Summerhill Pyramid Vineyard in Kelowna has been growing organic grapes for two decades.
"We don't use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or any kind of chemical whatsoever," says Summerhill owner Stephen Cipes.
He gets the soil in his fields tested even though it's not required. He'd like to see it made mandatory as part of Canada's organic system.
"I have a lot of concerns about today's buzz words - green, organic - it's very misleading," says Stephen.
We decided to run our own test, randomly selecting a bottle of Summerhill wine from a liquor store, and taking it to CanTest Labs for analysis.
For comparison, we tested Cedar Creek Pinot Noir from a nearby Okanagan winery.
CanTest is one of the testing labs for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and tested the wine to CFIA standards.
The results? Not a single residue of any kind was found in the Summerhill wine. The Cedar Creek had two residues of fungicides at practically non-detectable levels, well within safety limits established by Health Canada.
Stephen is going to keep getting his soil tested, even though no one is asking him to do it.
"I think we the public are entitled to know what we are eating and what we are buying, especially if we have to pay a little more for organic. We want to darn well know that it's really organic!" he says.
When the Canadian Food Inspection Agency begins testing organics it will represent a major shift in its mandate from testing for safety to testing to protect consumers from fraud.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Chris Olsen