What Is "Organic" & "Certified Organic"?

The term organic seems to be used just about everywhere these days. But what does it really mean? I thought that for winegrowers “organic” meant that the grapes and the land on which they grow have not been sprayed with chemical pesticides or herbicides and care is taken in every step to preserve their purity and natural characteristics. We discovered many years ago that this is not necessarily the case. There is no absolute definition of “organic” and many chemicals that we would never use are permitted under umbrella national and regional standards and certifying bodies. Standards vary enormously, although some smaller regional organic organizations, such as IOPA (Island Organic Producers Association) here on Vancouver Island set much stricter standards than the umbrella organizations.

If you are unsure of the source of your food and drink, it makes sense to start with certified organic products. Those producers took the trouble to go through the process of certification and pay for the inspections for third party verification. If you are a purist, delve a bit deeper, as “Certified Organic” means different things in different regions and countries. What started as an honest effort to guarantee a higher level of care became less meaningful to me as I discovered that certain chemicals that can be harmful to health, soil microorganisms and the quality of the ultimate product are allowed in many regions as politics and lobby groups exerted their influence.

We planted our vineyard in the spring of 1988 and set ourselves strict standards. To us “organic” meant that the grapes and the land on which they grow were not sprayed with chemical pesticides or herbicides and care is taken in every step to preserve their purity and natural characteristics. In 1990, IOPA (Island Organic Producers Association) was established and we more than satisfied all their standards. When our vineyard was producing and I set about getting certified organic through IOPA in 1991, we were informed that in their rules, pressure-treated posts (which we used for our fencing and trellis) were no longer permitted, even if soil testing around the posts showed no detectable chemical residue. We had been concerned about the chemical used on the posts to prevent rot and had allowed them to sit for several months off-site to ensure that any unbound residue would be washed away. Not only were suitable metal and concrete vineyard posts not locally available at that time, but there was no information available to determine if they could stand up to our conditions, especially supporting the overhead bird netting system under high wind conditions. I checked with other certifying bodies and discovered that we could join, for instance, SOOPA (Similkameen Okanagan Organic Producers Association) 600 km away and get certified through them. This simply did not make sense to us. We have not applied for organic certification since.

For more information on Canadian Organic Standards, go to the Canadian General Standards Board CGSB Organic  Agriculture website.

For more information about BC's Organic Standards and becoming certified organic in British Columbia, go to COABC's website.

For more information on the USDA's National Organic Program, go to the USDA NOP website.

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