Organic Beef Production in Ontario


In the recent past, some Ontario beef producers have implemented production systems designed to add value to their products through marketing beef with specific attributes (or product branding), which may command a premium or ensure market share. These systems include producing meat from animals which have been raised under one or more of the following criteria: not received antibiotics; not received exogenous hormonal implants; been fed a feedlot diet of predominantly corn; fed a feedlot diet which is predominately forage; had unlimited access to the outdoors; been finished on pasture; not been fed any animal products; not been fed any chemical feed additives; been raised in an organic manner. In addition, some production systems have been described as "natural", "pasture raised", or "farm raised".

One challenge in these systems is to preserve the identity and integrity of the product throughout the production system. Since beef production tends to be composed of many independently owned and managed segments within a single supply chain, integration across supply chains has been a challenge. Specific criteria required to meet these various branding initiatives have developed and implemented by various groups. This has led to confusion among consumers about what is meant by the terms used in product descriptions.

Organic producer organizations have developed criteria which proscribe unacceptable practices and describe accepted practices. A consensus version of these criteria has become accepted at the national level through the adoption of a federally regulated certification system for organic production, including beef.

Organic Production Defined

The Federal Government through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has legislation which provides a legal context for certified organic agricultural production in Canada1. Under the legislation, production practices which are acceptable in an organic system are defined. Product which meets all of the applicable national organic standards may be eligible for certification by an approved third party certification body, and sold as "Certified Organic". The regulations are being updated and are to come into effect fully on June 30, 2009.

The acceptable production practices which must be followed for Canadian Certification are detailed in Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards2, published by the Canadian National Standards Board.



Over time, many organic industry groups developed production and processing standards, and in conjunction with these, certification standards. Effective June 30, 2009, Canadian producers or processors who wish to produce, process and/or market agricultural products or foods as "Certified Organic", and identify them with the Canada Organic label must engage the services of an accredited certification body3 to review their system and provide inspector oversight. In order to be certified as organic producers they must meet the relevant federal regulations including those contained in:. Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards4 ; Organic Feed Standards; and Organic Production Systems Permitted Substances List5

Production Standards

The following are some of the production standards which must be met for beef to be marketed as Certified Organic (see the full regulations for additional detail )

Feeds and Feeding
  • Must be provided with organic feed
    • Permitted substances list of soil amendments for organic crop production
      • Fertilizer produced from petroleum is not permitted
      • Fertilizer from naturally occurring substances is generally permitted
  • For young animals natural milk
  • A substantial proportion of the feed shall consist of roughage, fresh/drier fodder or silage
  • When silages are fed, dry roughage must be offered


  • Shall not provide feed or feed additives or supplements that contain substances not in accordance with the Organic Feed Standards
  • Feed medications or veterinary drugs including hormones and prophylactic antibiotics to promote growth
  • Approved feed ingredients at levels greater than that required for adequate nutrition and health
  • Feeds chemically extracted or defatted with a prohibited substance
  • Mammalian or avian slaughter byproducts
  • Synthetic preservation agents, colouring agents, appetite enhancers or flavour enhancers
  • Feed formulas containing manure or other animal waste



  • Use natural methods of breeding by A.!. is permitted
  • Do not use reproductive hormones to trigger or synchronize estrus
  • Do not use embryo transfer techniques or breeding techniques using genetic engineering or related techniques

Production and Health Practices

  • Ear tagging, branding and castration (including banding) are permitted
  • Tail docking of cattle is prohibited unless necessary for veterinary treatment of injured animals
  • Vaccines are permitted when it has been documented that the disease canbe transmitted to other livestock on the premises and cannot be combated by other means
  • The use of pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, hormones and steroids for preventative treatments is prohibited
  • If permitted treatments are unlikely to be effective in the treatment of illness or injury, veterinary drugs or antibiotics may be administered under supervision of a veterinarian; meat animals so treated are considered non-organic
  • Hormonal treatments shall be used only for therapeutic reasons and under veterinary supervision. The meat from animals so treated shall not be sold as organic meat.
  • veterinary products allowed as a last resort as per regulations in 32.311
  • Access to the outdoors suitable to the animals stage of production, climate and environment
  • Access to pasture, weather permitting

Is Organic Production For You?

Becoming a Certified Organic beef producer brings potential rewards along with challenges. The Certified Organic designation will give you the opportunity to market a differentiated product which meets published standards and is backed by 3rd party certification. You may be able to link up with an already established production chain which preserves product identity to the consumer level. Consumers may be willing to pay a premium for your product. Challenges to becoming an organic producer include higher production costs and a 2 to 3 yr phase in period as you convert crop production to organic methods. Do some market research to find out if you will have access to a suitable outlet where your organic product will command a premium. Explore what changes you will have to make to your production system to become Certified Organic, and what extra costs or reductions in productivity these will entail. Then compare the potential benefits, costs and risks associated with changing over to organic production.

Resources For Organic Production

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

ON Organic Newsletter

Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada

Organic Council of Ontario

Organic Federation of Canada

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