ArticleVolume Number April 8, 2019

Organic standards: some important changes for 2030

Normes biologiques, des changements importants pour 2030

The Canadian Organic Standards are reviewed every five years, a process that is managed by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB). Working groups are set up to cover all sectors of organic production: crops, livestock and processing.  

Proposed changes are evaluated by a working group

The review of the standards is a highly democratic process. Anyone who wishes to do so can petition for a modification to the organic standards. The proposed changes are then evaluated on their merit by the Livestock Working Group, which is composed of stakeholders and farmers representing the main types of livestock. Once the petitions have been evaluated, the Working Group accepts, modifies or rejects the proposals and then conveys its recommendations to the voting members of the CGSB Committee on Organic Agriculture, also known as the Technical Committee.

A push for exercise since 2015

For the 2020 review, more than 200 petitions were submitted for evaluation, 75 of them for livestock production alone. While a number of minor changes have been made to the dairy production standards, the most significant change concerns tie stalls. Since 2015, organic dairy farmers have been required to comply with all of the housing and exercise requirements, which stipulate that only lactating cows can be kept in tie stalls and that they must have at least two exercise periods per week. All other animals must be housed in free-stall systems, from heifers to dry cows, including those in calving pens. As of 2015, all newly constructed or renovated barns must be free-stall facilities, although tie stalls continue to be allowed with two exercise periods per week.

Tie-stall barns prohibited on organic farms as of 2030

With the review process underway for 2020, the updated standards will pose a new challenge for organic milk producers currently using tie stalls. In fact, the latest meeting of the Technical Committee has just confirmed that tie stalls will be prohibited as of 2030. In other words, all barns certified organic that are still using tie-stall systems will need to be converted to free stalls, or milk from these farms will no longer be accepted as organic. The review process included consultations with Quebec’s organic milk producers, and these farmers readily ratified the change and accepted the challenge. More than half of organic dairy farms are already using free-stall systems, accounting for over 60 per cent of organic cows, and that number continues to grow. A 10-year timeframe for the transition was considered reasonable.

This new standard and all the changes should be in effect for 2020, once the 2019 public consultations on the modifications have been completed.