© Marc Lavoie, MAPAQ
We want to use the description “natural” on our packaging. Where can we find the standards on labelling using this term?

Frequently asked questions - FAQ

Here you will find answers to the questions we get asked most often, grouped into categories. Didn’t find an answer to your question? Don’t hesitate to contact our information service.

Ask a question

Reserved designations

What type of protection is afforded to reserved designations?

As well as accrediting external certification bodies responsible for ensuring that specifications are complied with, the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants administers a market surveillance system made up of qualified inspectors. It is responsible for carrying out the measures set out in the surveillance program while ensuring fair treatment for businesses and organizations that are subject to the Act respecting Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims. Under the Act, the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants has powers of inspection and the power to seek legal remedy against any offender in order to stop fraudulent or unauthorized use of a reserved designation.

Once a product has been recognized as a reserved designation, can changes be made to the specifications?

Yes. Persons or groups concerned by a designation can request amendments to specifications approved by the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants. Full information on reserved designations in Québec can be viewed in this section.

Are there costs associated with the application for recognition process?

The recognition process administered by the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants involves no cost for the applicant group. However, a certain amount of effort is required, which translates into an investment of time for the promoters. With regard to expenses incurred in conducting a feasibility study and developing specifications, the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) runs a program to provide funding for various stages in the preparation of an application. For information on this program, follow this link (french only).

How long does the process of obtaining recognition of a designation take?

The process of evaluating an application submitted to the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants takes at least six months. However, the process may take longer if the various steps in processing require adjustments or reveal a failure to achieve consensus between the various parties concerned in the application for recognition of a designation.

Can I trust certification?

Certification is subject to very strict supervision in the form of a series of control measures such as inspections of production sites, including a check of inputs used, a check of quality and traceability systems, an examination of accounting records (trial balance) and, where applicable, laboratory analyses of finished products. Only certification bodies accredited by the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants are entitled to provide businesses with a certification service. This service involves annual costs for businesses whose products are certified.

How do I report an irregularity or request verification?

Anyone can file a complaint or put a question to the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants if they consider that a product designated by a reserved designation offered for sale shows nonconformities regarding advertising, labelling, presentation or a commercial document relating to the product. Complaints or questions will be treated confidentially.

How does the surveillance service operate in the field?

The surveillance service conducts verification tours throughout Québec to ensure that current regulations are being observed. Inspectors may visit farms, processors, distributors, retailers and any place where reserved-designation products are on sale. The service also monitors written media and web publications and answers the concerns of consumers who file complaints or requests for verification. Anyone contravening the Act respecting Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims or its regulations commits an offence and is liable to a fine of between $2,000 and $20,000 or, in the case of a repeat offence, of between $4,000 and $60,000.

Why is checking the conformity of designations handed over to certification bodies?

Once a designation has been recognized, an external certification body ensures that specifications are complied with and certifies products. Certification by an independent, impartial external body gives consumers a guarantee that the approved specifications and product traceability requirements are fully met. To find out more about certification bodies accredited by the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants, follow this link.

What products are eligible for a reserved designation?

Products eligible for a reserved designation are those destined for human or animal consumption. Alcohol-containing products, such as beers, wines and spirits, are also eligible.

How can I obtain recognition of a reserved designation?

An application for recognition of a reserved designation must be submitted by a group of persons involved in the production or processing of the product concerned. Applications are passed on to the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants, which evaluates them in a multistage process, including a field visit and a public consultation on the content of specifications. Once the Conseil has approved the specifications and made a determination regarding the accreditation of a certification body to certify the product, it makes a recommendation to the Minister on whether the reserved designation should be recognized. On the recommendation of the Conseil, the Minister grants recognition to the reserved designation by publishing a notice in the Gazette officielle du Québec. Full information on reserved designations in Québec can be viewed in this section.

What is the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants, and what is its mission?

The Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants was created by the Québec government pursuant to the Act respecting Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims In 2006. The Conseil is the designated body for: evaluating applications; supervising the development of specifications; advising the Minister on the recognition of a designation or the authorization of an added-value claim, as well as the specific characteristics of products to be protected; accrediting and monitoring certification bodies tasked with verifying compliance with standards. The Conseil also has the responsibility of monitoring designations and how they are used in markets and on the web once they have been recognized.

How does recognition as a reserved designation benefit a product?

Reserved designations play an essential twofold role in the local economy. On the one hand, they give consumers a guarantee of the authenticity of a food product having specific attributes. On the other hand, they protect producers and their products against imitations and fraudulent labelling. Companies that produce an item bearing a reserved designation have a comparative advantage over their main competitors, in both local and external markets.

What is a reserved designation?

A reserved designation provides public recognition and highlights the authenticity of a food product for human (or animal) consumption that is distinct from other products in the same category.

The Act respecting Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims provides for three categories of designations: 

  1. Designations linked to a terroir: designations of origin (DO) and protected geographical indications (PGI). In either case, the designation is intended to recognize a link between a region or locality and a product that originates there. Currently there are five: Vin du Québec, Neuville Sweet Corn, Cidre de glace du Québec, Québec Icewine and Agneau de Charlevoix.
  2. Designations relating to a specificity (DS). This type of designation serves to highlight a specific characteristic of a product. Canadienne Cow Cheese enjoys this recognition;
  3. Designations relating to a method of production. This type of designation applies to a product which, by virtue of a specific method of production, is distinct from other products in the same category. The item must be the product of a complete system of growing, raising and processing whose standards allow distinctive objectives to be attained. Organic production is the first designation in this category.

Lastly, an added-value claim identifies a particular characteristic of a product, generally related to a method of production or preparation, that is sought by consumers. Farm cheese, craft beer and indigenous product are possible examples.


What are the costs of obtaining certification?

Each certification body establishes and disseminates a fee grid and ensures that it is applied equitably and without discrimination to all applicants. Fees vary from one certification body to another, depending on the size of the business, the type of product and the market aimed at by the business requesting certification. Please contact certification bodies for more information about their services and their certification fees.

How do I contact a certification body?

In Québec, only certification bodies accredited by the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants can issue certification. The names and contact information of all accredited certification bodies are available here.

What is a certification body, and what is its role?

A certification body is an organization that meets criteria of independence, impartiality, confidentiality and competence, in accordance with recognized international requirements. Its job is to verify whether certified products meet requirements. Certification bodies are accredited by the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants.

When a business has been certified for one or more products, how long does the certification remain valid, and what must the business do to maintain it?

Certification of a product remains valid unless it is suspended or cancelled by the certification body that issued it, and is subject to an annual check. Each year, the certification body asks the business to fulfil certain obligations in order to maintain the certification. Among these obligations are an update of their file (addition/withdrawal of products, inputs, etc.) and an inspection of their site during a production period.

What types of checks does a certification body carry out?

The certification procedure includes an assessment of documents (inputs, labels, recipes, etc.) and an annual inspection to ensure that businesses involved in production or preparation activities comply with standards. For organic products specifically, this includes an inspection of fields, facilities and agricultural activities, as well as samples of soil and products. Accredited certification bodies also carry out unannounced inspections.

What is the difference between certification and accreditation?

These terms are often confused. Certification is an attestation given by a competent certification body that a business using a reserved designation for its products complies with the specifications (standards) for that designation. The certification process requires that businesses undergo periodic inspections. 

Accreditation is a check of the activities of a certification body carried out by the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants. Its purpose is to guarantee that the work of certification is done competently and impartially. Rules of conduct must be observed.

The Organic designation

Who determines whether an input can be used in an organic production method?

In most cases, certification bodies determine whether the use of an input in agricultural activities or preparation activities complies with organic standards.

If a retailer inadvertently sells products supplied to it by a producer or processor in a condition that does not comply with the Act respecting Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims, is the retailer liable to prosecution?

If a producer or processor supplies products described as organic to a business without being compliant with the Act, and if the retailer shares no responsibility whatsoever for the offence, the retailer will not be prosecuted. On the other hand, anybody, including a retailer, who sells, packages or labels products as organic in the knowledge that these operations do not comply with the specifications for the Organic designation in Québec is liable to penalties defined by the Act.

Is certification of a product under the Canadian standard for products from outside Canada valid in Québec?

A Canada Organic Regime certificate given to organic products from a country other than Canada is valid for “imported” products everywhere in Canada, including Québec, provided that the organization that certified the products concerned is on the list of accredited bodies published by the CFIA and that the country of origin of these products falls within the geographical scope of the accreditation issued. Under equivalence agreements between Canada and other countries, it is sometimes necessary to obtain an additional attestation or certificate.

What documents should suppliers of organic products present to me?

If you wish to purchase organic products from a supplier, make sure that the supplier shows you a certificate of organic compliance issued by an accredited certification body.

What standards must be observed in the processing of organic foods?

Preparation and processing methods must be mechanical, physical or biological. The use of ingredients and additives of nonagricultural origin must be reduced to the greatest extent possible. Additives and manufacturing aids must not be added to a product except to maintain its nutritional value, improve its natural conservation or its stability, and to give it a composition, consistency and appearance that will not disappoint consumers with regard to its nature, substance and quality.

For more details, please see the specifications.

What rules apply to the handling and conditioning of organic foods, including bulk sales?

Details on good practice in handling and conditioning organic products can be found in this document (in French only).

Are there any commercial activities in which the sale of organic products does not require certification?

You are not required to be certified if you sell organic products and:

  • You do not engage in any activity that could lead to the breakage of the original packaging or label of certified products (purchase/resale)
  • You do not sell organic products in bulk (products in bins, fruits and vegetables, or any other products not labeled by the supplier)
  • The operations you perform on certified products are only minor (cutting up, slicing, shaving) and do not have the effect of changing the product, altering its integrity, or removing the original label, and are performed in front of customers and at their request
  • Your operations are those of a restaurateur, caterer or home chef. However, you are required to use organic ingredients at all times and you must be able to demonstrate this to inspectors from the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants.

Who must obtain certification of their products or operations?

Any business that is involved in the production or preparation (processing, handling, labelling, packaging, bulk sale or repackaging) of products bearing the Organic designation or any other reference to organic production must obtain certification. This is granted further to an inspection carried out by an accredited certification body. Wholesale or retail establishments that buy and sell products without modifying their packaging, labelling or content are not required to obtain certification. For further details, follow this link.

Must Québec operators have their organic products certified by a body accredited by the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants?

Yes. This is required by the Act respecting Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims in Québec. In addition, if an operator sells its organic production to a customer outside Québec, either in other Canadian provinces or abroad, it must obtain certification under the Canada Organic Regime from an organization accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Generally, a certification body accredited by the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants is also accredited by the CFIA and offers this service at the same time.

What products can obtain organic certification?

Any product that is destined for human or animal consumption, including aquaculture products, and any of whose operations (production, wild-harvest, processing, packaging, repackaging, labelling, conditioning) is carried out by a business located in Québec, or that is on sale in Québec, may be certified Organic. For further details consult the specifications by following this link

Products from outside Québec must first be certified by an accredited body or recognized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) under the Canada Organic Regime.

Cosmetic products, natural health products, body care products, cannabis and textile products are not supervised by the Conseil. They may be certified to private standards.

How can I check that an organic product is genuine?

You can quickly check whether a product is genuine by looking for the name of the certification body spelled out on the product packaging. (The name may be contained within a logo.) You can also consult the Directory of Québec Certified Organic Products, or ask the retailer or producer for the product’s certificate of organic compliance. If you have doubts, you can send us a request for verification, also known as a “complaint”.

What is an organic product?

The designation Organic (together with its synonyms and derived terms) is protected by the Act respecting Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims. An organic product must meet the requirements of the specifications: this is verified by a certification body accredited by the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants. A list of certification bodies can be found here.


We want to use the description “natural” on our packaging. Where can we find the standards on labelling using this term?

The description of “natural” is not considered to be a synonym, derivative or diminutive of the word “organic.” However, the Government of Canada has issued directives on the use of various such terms. For more details, please consult the website of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The packaging or labelling of some certified organic products that I sell in my store is not compliant. What should I do?

Please contact the information service of the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants as quickly as possible. (File a complaint)

Can I indicate ingredients that are organic in a processed product that is not certified organic?

Yes. Organic ingredients in a multi-ingredient product that is not certified organic may be shown in the list of ingredients printed on the label. 

However, descriptions such as “organic”, “made from organic ingredients” or any similar wording are prohibited on labels, in advertising, and in commercial documents if the product is not certified.

It is important to note that this does not apply in the case of single-ingredient products. This means that, to be able to use the “organic” description in the list of ingredients of a product whose sole ingredient is organic, certification is required.

I am an egg producer without organic certification, and I feed my hens with organic meal. Can I say so?

Unless a product has Organic certification, referring to an organic production method anywhere other than the list of ingredients is prohibited. Organic meal is not an ingredient of the product, and therefore must not be mentioned.

As manager of a retail store, I buy certified organic products in bulk and then place them in bins so that consumers can purchase the quantity they desire. What can I indicate on the bins to let them know the organic status of products?

You must obtain Organic certification to conduct this kind of operation. (More details)

Who approves the labelling of a product using a reserved designation prior to marketing?

The body that certifies a business’s products must approve its labels to ensure that they comply with current regulations. In case of doubt, you may contact the Conseil des Appellations Réservées et des Termes Valorisants for validation of the information shown on labels or packaging.

Can I say that a product or business has “certification pending” or is “transitioning to organic”?

No. The Organic designation can only be used when a certificate has been issued by an accredited certification body.