FAQ

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Why Certify?

The certification of organic products by an accredited Certification Body assures consumers that products have been produced or processed to national or provincial standards for organic production.

Aside from the quality assurance that certification provides, provincial organic certification regulations regarding the labelling and marketing of organic products in B.C. changed in 2018. All producers, processors and handlers of organic food and beverages require documentation to prove that their products (and/or processes) are certified by an accredited Certification Body.

Renewals

A full organic PLAN is required from new applicants, or from an existing PACS member who has made significant changes to their operation, or from an operation who has already submitted 5 RENEWALS, or if there have been changes to the organic standards (of which PACS will notify its members).

PROCESSORS:

If you wish to add products to your organic certificate please send an email to PACS along with :

  • Organic documentation for ingredients
  • OPP (product recipe form)
  • Label
  • Additional information including sales jurisdiction, expected launch date, process/process flow information (if different from existing stock)

Growers

  • Provide updated field map (if applicable)
  • Seeding/transplant date/documentation so a transition period can be determined

Certification Types

COR

Land-based activities are subject to a mandatory period of transition from an initial application to organic certification.  Transitions periods will be a minimum of 12 months and up to 36 months, depending on the last date of application of a prohibited substance.

Canada currently has equivalency arrangements with USA, EU, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Japan. Not all COR certified products are equivalent in each of these countries. For more information about qualifying products, see our Standards, Directives & Manuals page or contact the PACS Certification Committee.

Products classified as food commodities, seed, or feed are eligible for certification to COR. PACS certifies scopes of production such as crop, livestock, greenhouse, multi-ingredient food/feed preparation, as well as the handling activities of traders/distributors, and contracted packaging & labelling activities of organic products.

BCCOP

Products certified to BCCOP are considered certified organic only within British Columbia. These products will not be considered “certified organic” ingredients by COR certified operations.

Many organic enterprises with exemplary recordkeeping and straightforward operations (small crop operations as opposed to multi-ingredient processors, for example) have a low risk of non-compliance whereby they do not export organic products out of their own province or territory, and have not had non-compliances in their last three inspections. These enterprises may be evaluated for participation in the Low Risk Program on or after their third organic inspection with PACS. Participation in the Low Risk Program requires that annual renewals are submitted on time; however, the requirement for inspection is extended to at least once every three years which results in significant cost savings.  For details on the specific criteria for risk assessment and eligibility to the Low Risk Program, please contact the PACS Certification Committee. 

PACS is accredited by the COABC (Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia) and, therefore, provides BCCOP certification to operators who are in B.C. and wish to have BCCOP certification as opposed to COR.  Products certified to BCCOP may not be sold outside of B.C. with an organic claim, nor can they be used as ingredients in COR certified products. BCCOP certification covers some products not eligible for certification under COR such as cut flowers, Christmas trees and fallow land that is not yet in production. Operators who are currently certified under the COR program may wish to add products that are only certifiable to BCCOP, which is permitted. In this case, PACS will take care of this distinction for you on your organic certificate. 

Low-Risk

The PACS Low Risk program is based on the COABC’s BCCOP organic standards and risk assessment criteria for the BCCOP Low Risk program (see MORE INFO under BCCOP Low Risk), and is offered to producers outside of British Columbia. Operations may market their products as certified organic when certified to the PACS Low Risk program, but since this program is not recognized under the Canada Organic Regime, out-of-province operations may only use the PACS logo on products. Products do not qualify for use as ingredients in COR products, and they do not qualify under organic equivalency arrangements. 

The risk assessment program is defined within the BC Certified Organic Program.

The program allows small-scale low-risk producers to reduce their costs by allowing inspections only once every three years.

The risk assessment criteria are not recognized under the Canada Organic Regime (COR); therefore, operations that intend to sell products outside of their home province or territory do not qualify for the program.

Eligible operations in BC will be certified to the BCCOP. Eligible operations out-of-province will be certified to PACS only.

Following a VO risk assessment, the PACS Certification Committee will review and determine if an operation qualifies for entry to the Low Risk Program.

Crop

Crops grown in buffer zones are NOT considered organic; therefore, if buffer zones are harvested, the harvesting/storage equipment must be cleaned and/or separate from that used for organic crop harvesting and storage.

Fence posts can be treated with substances listed on the Permitted Substances List (PSL), Table 4.3.

If there are existing fence posts in use within an operation that are treated with a prohibited substance such as CCA (for example), or if a new operation is purchased that already has fence posts in place, those posts can remain in use and/or be recycled within the operation.

If a new applicant installs treated fence posts while in their transition period, this would result in a 36-month transition of the specific production unit where they were installed.

If an existing certified organic operation installs treated posts, decertification could result if they cannot prove due diligence for the commercial availability of an alternate choice.

Operations who are currently certified organic (CO) may add land by submitting the following documents to PACS

  • Provide land use history form
  • Lease agreement (if applicable)
  • Land use affidavit from prior user confirming last date of application of prohibited substances
  • Updated land base map

All land-based activities (crop and livestock) must undergo a transition period. The Canadian Organic Standards must be applied to a production unit for at least 12 months before the first harvest of organic products, and proof must be provided that prohibited substances have not been used on the land for at least 36 months. After the receipt of all forms and payment of initial application fees, the operation is considered under the supervision of PACS and the 12-month transition period begins upon that date; during which time an initial inspection and certification review will take place. Following a second successful inspection, and after the 12-month transition period, crops qualify for organic certification status.

You must have searched for organic seed from 3 or more potential sources and retain documentation of your search. Any non-organic seed you source must be proven (declaration from the supplier) to be untreated and non-genetically engineered (non-GE).

A buffer zone is a clearly defined, identifiable boundary, that separates an organic production unit from adjacent non-organic areas. If unintended contact with prohibited substances is possible, a distinct buffer zone (at least 8 m wide), or a feature that prevents contamination, such as a hedgerow, windbreak, or other physical barrier, is required.

Livestock

Fence posts can be treated with substances listed on the Permitted Substances List (PSL), Table 4.3.

If there are existing fence posts in use within an operation that are treated with a prohibited substance such as CCA (for example), or if a new operation is purchased that already has fence posts in place, those posts can remain in use and/or be recycled within the operation.

If a new applicant installs treated fence posts while in their transition period, this would result in a 36-month transition of the specific production unit where they were installed.

If an existing certified organic operation installs treated posts, decertification could result if they cannot prove due diligence for the commercial availability of an alternate choice.

Animals purchased for breeding SHOULD be organic; however, if suitable stock is not available, and non-organic breeding stock are purchased in order to expand the herd, the dams must be under continuous organic management from the beginning of the last third of the dam’s gestation period in order to certify the offspring.

The dams purchased as non-organic will always be considered non-organic meat animals.

All land-based activities (crop and livestock) must undergo a transition period. The Canadian Organic Standards must be applied to a production unit for at least 12 months before the first harvest of organic products, and proof must be provided that prohibited substances have not been used on the land for at least 36 months. After the receipt of all forms and payment of initial application fees, the operation is considered under the supervision of PACS and the 12-month transition period begins upon that date; during which time an initial inspection and certification review will take place. Following a second successful inspection, and after the 12-month transition period, crops qualify for organic certification status.

Preparation

OPP / Ingredients

Current organic certificates are required for all Organic Ingredients used in your products. Any new suppliers must be approved by the PACS Certification Committee prior to use as an ingredient by submitting organic certification documents, and corresponding equivalency documentation (if applicable) for review.

PACS requires a copy of your suppliers’ organic certificates on-file, and you must also keep records on-site as the Verification Officer will inspect these documents during your inspection to ensure they are current and correspond to the date(s) of ingredient shipments.

If there are any Non-organic ingredients used in your product, a Non-Organic Ingredient (NOI) form is required to ensure the product complies with COR standards.

An Organic Product Profile (OPP), is essentially a recipe/list of ingredients, both organic, and non-organic that PACS keeps on-file for every processed multi-ingredient product that an operation certifies as organic. The OPP worksheet calculates the percentage of organic ingredients and lists all product suppliers and their certification bodies.

Every time you have an ingredient and/or supplier change, or wish to add a new product for certification, a new OPP must be filled out, and submitted to the PACS Certification Committee for review and approval.

Upon approval of your OPP and corresponding label, a product may then be added to your organic certificate.

International Equivalencies

In order to use an organic ingredient in your product that is certified outside of Canada, it must meet an equivalency arrangement with the Canada Organic Regime (COR). Products grown in countries outside of Canada that are certified through the United States’ National Organic Program (NOP) will be recognized as being equivalent in Canada, provided they are accompanied by a current organic certification document, as well as a US/Canada Organic Equivalency Arrangement (USCOEA) statement. Products grown in the 28-member states of the EU that are accompanied by a current organic certificate will be recognized as equivalent in Canada under the EUCOEA.

In order for a USDA NOP-certified product to be equivalent to COR standards, it needs to be accompanied by an attestation that declares equivalency. The attestation confirms the following:

  1. The product was not produced using sodium nitrate (Chilean nitrate).
  2. The product was not grown using hydroponic or aeroponic production methods.
  3. Agricultural products derived from animals (with the exception of ruminants) were raised according to livestock stocking rates set out in Canada’s Organic Standards (CAN/CGSB 32.310 - 2015).

Split Production

In order to maintain organic integrity, organic products must be separated from non-organic products during all stages of production and storage.

If an organic processing run follows a non-organic processing run, a removal event must occur. Depending on the nature of the products and the processing facility, a removal event may involve the cleaning of equipment with approved products or purging the processing equipment with a run of organic ingredients (following which they may not be used in certified organic products).

Documentation must be available for the Verification Officers to audit organic vs. non-organic ingredient volumes and product sales.

Wineries

In order for a finished product to bear an organic label, the entire product (all ingredients, additives and processing aids), and the processes used to produce the product, must be verified to follow the Canadian Organic Standards, and subsequently certified by an accredited Certification Body.

Since the processing of wine takes place over several months, winemaking is somewhat unique in the world of Preparation. PACS can certify the winemaking process prior to the bottling of organic wine; however, the initial inspection of the operation must take place within a reasonable timeframe of the first organic crush of the season. If you already have a certified organic vineyard, a great place to start is with the following document: Adding your Winery/Cidery to the Scope of your Certification. Contact the PACS Certification Committee for more information and we will be happy to help you with certifying your winery!

Greenhouse Production

Soil used for containerized greenhouse plants must be free of prohibited substances, contain a mineral fraction (sand, silt or clay), an organic fraction (i.e. compost), and provide continuous nutrients to the plants.

Staked crops have more specific requirements: The total volume must consist of at least 10% compost, compost shall be included in the fertility program, containers must be at least 30 cm high, and the soil volume must be at least 70L/m2.

Labelling

Logos

Our certification program is ISO-compliant, which means we can issue federal (COR) and/or provincial (BCCOP) organic logos to food products. In the case of COR-certified operations, we can confirm that products listed on the certificate are in compliance with the US-Canadian Organic Equivalency Agreement and under that equivalency arrangement, the USDA logo could be used. There are some major exceptions, such as dairy products (for instance).

Labelling information can be found in the:

PACS Handbook for Organic Operators. Please contact PACS to request this booklet.

And the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) website.

NOTE: All labels must be approved by the PACS Certification Committee prior to use in the marketplace.

If your enterprise is located within BC, you may use the BCCOP logo.

If your enterprise is COR certified, you may use the COR logo (unless you use the phrase “Certified Organic” on your label).

NOTE: If you have moved from COR certification into the BCCO Low Risk Program, you must remove the COR logo from all labels and marketing.

All PACS clients may use the PACS logo.

Cannabis

Producers who are federally licensed for the cultivation of cannabis, or who are in the process of applying for a federal licence, may apply for organic certification. To qualify for organic certification under the Canada Organic Regime (COR), a product must be an agricultural food product intended for human or animal consumption. Cannabis is not considered a food product, and is not recognized under the COR; therefore, PACS has developed internal ISO organic certification programs for the organic certification of legally produced cannabis. 

The PACS organic certification program for Indoor Cannabis Cultivation (containerized, greenhouse production), is based on the Canadian Organic Standards for greenhouse production. Following an initial inspection and successful certification review, a PACS organic certificate will be issued to an Indoor production operation, provided they are a federally licensed producer.  If the Health Canada licence has not been issued, receipt of an organic certificate will be withheld until the operation receives its HC licence.

The PACS organic certification program for Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation (in-ground) is based on the principal aspects of the Canadian Organic Standards for crop production.  Outdoor, in-ground, production is considered a land-based activity and is subject to a minimum transition period of 12 months. The land must also be free of prohibited substances for a minimum of 36 months. An Outdoor operation will receive a letter indicating their transitional status and the PACS certification committee will determine their organic eligibility date pending a successful second inspection and pending their receipt of a federal licence for cannabis production. NOTE: If the HC licence has not been received by the date of organic eligibility, the fallow land may be certified to BCCOP.

Because cannabis is not considered a food product and not certifiable to COR, its processed derivatives are also not eligible for certification to COR.  PACS will certify processed Cannabis products (oils), providing the operation holds a valid Health Canada licence for Cannabis Processing, to the in-house PACS Cannabis Processing certification program.  This program is based on the COR standards for food preparation.   Products may be marketed as organic but may only bear the PACS logo. They may not bear the COR, USDA or EU logos, or the organic logos of other countries with which Canada has equivalency arrangements.

You may apply for certification if you wish to start the organic certification process; however, if your Health Canada licence application is declined, we will not be able to proceed with organic certification of your cannabis operation. If you are an outdoor operation and wish to apply for certification of the land only, so that it transitions and is ready for cannabis production at a later date, you may do so.

Natural Health Products

PACS has an internal certification program for Natural Health Products. Qualified products may be identified as organic, may state “Certified organic by PACS” and may display the PACS logo. They may not bear the federal (COR) or provincial (BCCOP) organic logos because those are both food logos. PACS-certified products do not qualify for international equivalency arrangements; therefore they would not qualify for bearing the USDA NOP logo.

When a product label displays health claims, it falls outside of the scope of COR certification which is specific to food commodities, seed and animal feed; therefore, PACS has developed an in-house program to certify Natural Health Products (such as herbal supplements) as organic. A PACS organic certificate will be issued, and products may be sold outside of Canada with an organic claim, however, because Natural Health Products cannot be certified to COR, they may not bear the COR, USDA  or EU logos, or the organic logos of other countries with which Canada has equivalency arrangements. 

Cosmetics

PACS does not currently certify cosmetic products; however, this certification program may be offered in the future.

Inspections

Every enterprise will have an on-site inspection conducted annually of each production unit, facility and site that produces or handles organic products. All scheduled inspections must be conducted at a time when an authorized representative of the enterprise, and who is knowledgeable about the operation, is present. Operators must arrange for the Verification Officer (VO) to have access to all areas and operation records.

PACS may conduct additional inspections of both new applicants and certified operations to determine compliance with the standards. Additional inspections may be announced, or unannounced at the discretion of PACS. Note: 3% of primary producers and 5% of other operators are subject to unannounced inspections annually.

The initial certification of a crop-based enterprise requires 2 inspections prior to obtaining approval for certification; an initial, and then a second inspection 12 months later.

Depending on the timing of your inspection, if your harvest has not yet taken place, please have the previous year’s records available for the VO to audit.

Crop

  • Crop rotation & soil Improvement plans
  • Disease and pest management plans
  • Input record – dates, rates, locations

Livestock

  • Inventory of all animals onsite
  • Records to verify purchases/dispersals
  • Inventory of all health care products onsite.
  • Verifying size and stocking rate for all pens and pastures (indoor and outdoor).
  • Audit of health care records for the year.

Preparation

  • Every effort will be made to ensure there is an organic production run in progress during the inspection.
  • Product list, plant diagram, flow cart, OPPs will all be reviewed and verified at every inspection.

-Sanitation: SOPs and all cleaners onsite will be verified.

-Traceability code/mechanism will be verified.

Selling Your Operation

PACS requires notification of the sale of the operation and an application form submitted from the new owners which will identify any pertinent information with regard to changes within the operation. The operation will also require an inspection under the new ownership; the annual inspection may be timed so that it takes place following the purchase of an operation, but this will need to be coordinated with PACS.

NOTE: The Low Risk status cannot be transferred to a new owner. A new purchaser must have COR certification, which requires an annual inspection.

Organic Standards

PACS clients are always welcome to contact the Certification Committee to inquire about the interpretation of the organic standards. If we are unable to answer a question, we will send an inquiry to the COABC (Certified Organic Associations of BC) and/or the SIC (Standards Interpretation Committee).

How Can I Get Certified:

Visit our How to Get Certified page and follow the step-by-step process to guide your path to successful organic certification.

Who PACS Certifies:

PACS certifies Canadian enterprises in the following industries: organic crop production, organic livestock production, organic greenhouse, sprouts & microgreen production, organic food & beverage production, organic cannabis production, organic and wild-harvested mushrooms, wild-harvest certification, maple and birch production, natural and agricultural health products. Follow PACS Step-by-Step Guide to Organic Certification.

Our Programs:

PACS certifies to the Canadian Organic Regime (COR) for national and international export of products as well as to the Certified Organic Association of BC (COABC) for certification within the clients province. PACS has an in-house certification program for agricultural health products as well as the Transition to Organic program. Read more about PACS Organic Certification Programs.