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History of organic from philosophy to regulations

The organic movement is not a new phenomenon. Philosophers and scientists have been cautioning against the trend towards industrial agriculture for more than a century. 

The early 1900s saw the introduction of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides, staples of industrial agriculture. In 1924, Austrian philosopher, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, published Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture. His vision of the farm as a living organism became the foundation of biodynamic farming. 

Sir Albert Howard published The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture and Lady Eve Balfour published The Living Soil. Both emphasized the role of healthy, fertile soil in the production of healthy crops and livestock and the link to human health and nutrition. 

In 1947, the Rodale family founded the Soil and Health Foundation in the United States based on these same ideas. Over the next 25 years, increased environmental awareness led to consumer demand for food grown in a more sustainable way. More farmers started growing “organic food” however, without standards, organic production had no clear definition nor method of regulation.  

In 1972, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) was established with the goals of leading, uniting and assisting the organic movement worldwide. IFOAM defined the basic standards and regulations relating to the certification of organic agriculture.

In 1974, McGill University set up the Ecological Agriculture Projects program which later became an information clearinghouse for all of Canada. Six Canadian provinces had organizations to facilitate networking among organic farmers. 

In 1999, the first Canadian Organic Agriculture standard was published. It defined the practices and procedures that organic farmers and processors had to follow to be certified organic. At that time, organic certification was voluntary and there was concern that the term “organic” was being used for products produced in ways that did not adhere to the standards.

In 2000, the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) was founded by a group of organic farmers representing all four Atlantic Provinces. Their goal was to grow the organic sector in the region through collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

In 2009, the Canadian Organic Products Regulations came into effect. These regulations are enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. By law, only products produced by a certified organic grower or processor may be labelled as “organic”.  

The Canadian Organic Standards continue to be reviewed and modified; the fourth edition was released in 2020. In 2021, the first Canadian Organic Standards for Aquaculture were released. The founding principles of the organic movement are still the basis for the standards: 

Principle of Health: Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plants, animals, humans and the planet as one and indivisible.

Principle of Ecology: Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

Principle of Care: Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

Principle of Fairness: Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

Organic agriculture continues to gain momentum. Moving forward, it will have to work to maintain these principles while balancing the environmental, social and economic concerns of a growing and diverse group of practitioners. 

Remember that you, the eater, have an important role in shaping the future of our food system. The organic movement began because of consumer demand for food grown in a sustainable manner. Your food choices do make a difference.