(May 9, 1:53 p.m.) A lot of details still need to be sorted out before the new Canada Organic Regime goes into effect.

One key item — whether or not retailers will have to become certified organic in order to carry bulk organics and do in-house fresh-cut organic produce — is still uncertain.

“That little piece is in limbo right now,” said Heather Holland, senior technical manager for food safety and government relations for the Ottawa-based Canadian Produce Marketing Association.

It’s one thing to make sure the integrity of organic produce is protected, but quite another to require all areas of the supply chain, regardless of whether or not they alter the product, to be certified, Holland said.

“The supply chain is a very long, segmented beast,” Holland said. “Produce actually goes through many hands, and not all of those would change the product.”

The Canada Organic Regime is similar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program and the CFIA monitors and enforces the regulations.

U.S. retailers are not required to be certified organic produce unless they have in-house fresh-cut processing and want to sell that product as organic. Some, like Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc. and Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford Bros. Co., have certified chainwide. Minneapolis-based Target Corp. also certified the produce departments at SuperTargets in September 2006.

“The costs and requirements for becoming certified organic, especially if you’re not changing the nature of the product, ultimately would reduce the number of retailers willing to carry it,” Holland said.

Costs to retailers vary based on company size and complexity, said Bill Wolf, partner in New Castle, Va.-based consulting firm Wolf, DiMatteo + Associates Inc. Wolf said the preparations for organic certification often are as costly, if not more costly than the certification itself.

A small retailer can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 to prepare. Larger retailers would likely spend more, he said, but individual stores usually are covered under a corporate umbrella of certification. Annual certification could be $2,500 per year. The cost to certify multiple locations is on a case-by-case basis, Wolf said.

Stephanie Wells, liaison for the Ottawa-based branch of the Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass., said it and other industry organizations still are deciphering what the new regulations mean for the fresh produce industry, among others.

“At this stage of the game, retailers will not have to be certified organic to carry organic produce,” she said. “There was a certain push for it but we’ve pushed back. We think it’s going to greatly limit the number of retailers that are going to carry organic products.”

For retailers and processors that are doing repacking and fresh-cut organic produce, however, it is a different story.

“That has not been articulated for us,” she said. “If you’re repacking bulk containers into smaller, in-house product, the jury’s still out on that.”

Wells said even though the regulations are set to go into effect Dec. 14, that likely won’t be the drop-dead date of enactment.

Holland said of all organic products sold in Canada, 38% are fresh fruits and vegetables. Depending on the time of year, 90% of that could be imported.

If retailers find the new Canada Organic system too onerous, they might stop dedicating so much shelf space to fresh organic fruits and vegetables, which could hurt the domestic industry as well.

“Domestic growers will be hurt because they’ll not be able to sell in nonspecialty stores, the ones that can afford to dedicate the shelf-space to organics,” she said.

According to the new regulations, products imported to Canada also will have to be certified organic by an organization that is recognized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, that country’s equivalent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.