T-4-120 - Regulation of Compost under the Fertilizers Act and Regulations

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I Purpose

The purpose of this document is to provide information on the regulatory requirements for compost under the Fertilizers Act and Regulations, and describe the safety and labelling standards that must be met in order to legally sell or import compost into Canada. This document is also designed to assist compost producers, facility operators, importers, and retailers in meeting the regulatory requirements prescribed by the Acts administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

II Regulatory Background

Fertilizers and supplements sold or imported into Canada are regulated by the CFIA under the authority of the Fertilizers Act. Both compost and products represented to contain compost (see note) fall under the purview of this Act, and as such must meet the prescribed safety and labelling standards.

Compost is classified as a supplement and is defined in Schedule II of the Fertilizers Regulations. Products set out in Schedule II that meet the composition and name designation specified therein, are exempt from registration and as such do not require pre-market assessment by the CFIA. However, once in the marketplace these products must still meet all of the prescribed standards and conform to the Regulations.

To ensure compliance of products to the prescribed standards, persons selling or importing compost may submit for a pre-market assessment to the CFIA Fertilizer Safety Section. Information required for an assessment can be found in Appendix B.

Note: Products which have additional ingredients blended in after the composting process is complete no longer meet the definition of "compost" as set out in Schedule II. As such, these products may or may not be exempt from registration. The regulatory requirements for these products will depend on the final product blend, its composition and label claims. Similarly, liquid compost tea products do not meet the definition of "compost" in Schedule II and may be subject to different regulatory requirements.

In addition to the requirements under the Fertilizers Act, importation of compost may be subject to requirements under the Plant Protection Act (if the product contains soil or materials of plant origin), and the Health of Animals Act (if the product contains materials of animal origin). To determine the appropriate importation requirements, the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) should be consulted prior to importation. Additional information may be obtained directly from the applicable import unit (see VII Contact Information).

The export of compost is not regulated under the Fertilizers Act and Regulations. However, under the Health of Animals Regulations, the export of products containing material from a rendering plant requires certification by the CFIA prior to export.

As part of the Enhanced Feed Ban, there are additional requirements for fertilizers and supplements containing prohibited material under the Health of Animals Regulations. These will be discussed in Section V - Safety Requirements.

III Definitions

Brand Footnote 1: means any distinctive mark or trade name, other than a name or grade required by these Regulations, applied by the manufacturer, registrant or vendor to a fertilizer or supplement to distinguish it from any other fertilizer or supplement.

Compost Footnote 2: A solid mature product resulting from composting, which is a managed process of bio-oxidation of a solid heterogeneous organic substrate, including a thermophilic phase. This product may be designated as to kind.

Composted Manure Footnote 2: Compost produced using the organic matter fraction of the excreta of animals or birds, with or without litter. The compost may use as little as 60% manure and as much as 40% of a carbon source, if the ratio reflects the need for a carbon source when composting the manure, and if the carbon source includes only materials that may be used as litter, such as straw, hay, bark, sawdust, wood chips, shavings, leaves, grass, wood chunks (such as branches and leaves), tree clippings and plant residues but not including treated wood or materials that have been chemically or biologically contaminated.

Fertilizer Footnote 3: means any substance or mixture of substances, containing nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium or other plant food, manufactured, sold or represented for use as a plant nutrient.

Grade Footnote 1: means the percentage content of total nitrogen, available phosphoric acid and soluble potash stated in that sequence.

Mixed Fertilizer Footnote 1: includes all fertilizers other than fertilizers consisting of a single material or one chemical compound.

Most Probable Number (MPN): a technique used in microbiology to count bacteria.

Organic Matter Footnote 1: means that substance remaining after removal of the moisture and total ash fractions from partially humified matter of animal or vegetable origin.

Prohibited Material Footnote 4: means anything that is, or that contains any, protein that originated from a mammal, other than:

  1. a porcine or equine;
  2. milk or products of milk;
  3. gelatin derived exclusively from hides or skins or products of gelatin derived exclusively from hides or skins;
  4. blood or products of blood; or
  5. rendered fats, derived from ruminants, that contain no more than 0.15% impurities, or their products.

Note: Manure and solids from municipal wastewater treatment plants that do not receive specified risk material are not considered to be prohibited material.

Specified Risk Material (SRM) Footnote 1, means

  1. the skull, brain, trigeminal ganglia, eyes, tonsils, spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia of cattle aged 30 months or older, and
  2. the distal ileum of cattle of all ages.

Note: As a practical matter, the carcasses of cattle deadstock containing SRM that has not been removed are considered SRM. Other material that may contain SRM, e.g. solids collected in waste traps at slaughterhouses may also be considered SRM.

Supplement Footnote 3: means any substance or mixture of substances, other than a fertilizer, that is manufactured, sold or represented for use in the improvement of the physical condition of soils or to aid plant growth or crop yields.

Note: Terms in this document may have been compiled from other sources. In the case of discrepancy between definitions, the original referenced source will take precedence over this document. For additional definitions, please see these referenced resources.

IV Labelling

Pursuant to the Fertilizers Regulations all information on the label shall be printed conspicuously, legibly and indelibly. Labels must not have any incorrect or misleading information, mark, brand or name that would tend to deceive or mislead a purchaser with respect to the composition or utility of the product.


All composts require the following information to appear on the label:

  1. product name*
  2. net weight*
  3. name and address of the registrant or the responsible packager*
  4. lot number
  5. guaranteed analysis
  6. directions for use
  7. cautionary statements (if applicable)

* If a label contains more than one panel (e.g. a front and back) then the main panel must contain at least the product name, the product weight and the name and address of the person who packaged the product.

Note: Where the product is sold in bulk, the required label information must appear on a shipping bill or statement accompanying the shipment.

1. Product Name

According to the Fertilizers Regulations, any product listed in Schedule II must use the designated name listed in Column 2 of that Schedule. Names of products that are not listed in Schedule II, or are a combination of Schedule II items, are subject to approval by the CFIA.

Product names cannot be misleading, and cannot in any way misrepresent the product. For example:

  • Designation as to kind is acceptable, but not required for compost.
    Example, composted yard waste.
  • If other ingredients are added to the compost they must be stated in the product name. For example, a product cannot be called "compost" if it contains compost mixed with other materials, such as a chemical fertilizer. If the proponent wishes to name the product using a name designated in Schedule II, the product must be named such that the name accurately represents the product.
    Example, compost with urea 5-2-0
    composted cattle manure with lime 3-1-0
    Please note that this type of product may be subject to additional regulatory requirements, such as product registration.

The use of a "brand" is not required for any product, but is allowed. The "brand" may not be misleading and cannot in any way misrepresent the product.

If one or more major nutrients are claimed, the fertilizer grade must be included in the product name. The grade is composed of the percentage by weight of the major plant nutrients in the total product. The three numbers in the grade represent the percent (%) total nitrogen (N), % available phosphoric acid (P2O5), and % soluble potash K2O, separated by hyphens.
e.g. 1-1-1

Under the Fertilizers Regulations, a grade and nutrient guarantees are permitted for compost and required for composted manure. In cases where the compost claims to provide nutrients or when it contains manure as a feedstock the grade and guaranteed analysis are required. If included, the grade should represent the combined level of nutrients obtained from the compost and any other fertilizer material incorporated in the product.

Compost is considered to be a single ingredient, as its composition changes with the composting process. However, it can be considered to be a mixed fertilizer if other ingredients are added to the final product after the composting process has been completed. Due to the fact that nutrients could be sourced from either the compost and/or the added ingredients, and it is difficult to identify the source of the nutrient, the final product (e.g. compost + lime) would be considered a mixed fertilizer. In the case of mixed fertilizers, the grade must be in whole numbers.

2. Net Weight

All compost product are sold by weight, and must be described in grams (g) or kilograms (kg). If desired, volume in litres (L) or millilitres (ml) may be included in addition to the weight of the product.
e.g. Net weight: 10 kg, Net volume: 25 L

As set out in the Weights and Measures Act, all units of measurement must be provided in the metric system. Where imperial units are also included, they should be enclosed in brackets following the metric equivalent.
e.g. Net weight: 10 kg (22 lbs.)

3. Name and Address

The company name (i.e., the responsible packager or registrant) and the complete postal address must be displayed on the main panel of the label. The complete postal address includes the company name, street address and/or P.O. Box, city or town, province or state and the postal code.

4. Lot Number

According to the Fertilizers Regulations, all fertilizer (except for customer-formula) and supplement products must bear a lot number on their product label or shipping bill.

5. Guaranteed Analysis

The guaranteed analysis represents the product's nutrient and/or other active ingredient content. All guarantees are made in percent, and are calculated based on the weight of the final product at maximum moisture. If the product is claimed to provide nutrients, these nutrient guarantees must appear in the guaranteed analysis portion of the product label.

Organic Matter and Moisture
The guarantees for the minimum amount of organic matter and the maximum moisture content are mandatory for compost. In order to ensure that the minimum guarantee can be met, organic matter should be measured, and guaranteed, as a percentage of the product at maximum moisture.

Major Nutrients
Compost is classified in Schedule II as a supplement, and as such nutrient guarantees are not mandatory. However, if any claims are made regarding nutritional value of the product, such as for composted manure, the product would then be classified as a supplement and a fertilizer, and the label would have to include the guarantees for the major nutrients. The guarantees for the major nutrients include the minimum amounts of Total Nitrogen (N), Available Phosphoric Acid (P2O5) and Soluble Potash K2O.

Lesser Nutrients
The guarantees for lesser nutrients are not required, but are permitted.

Agriculture use mixed fertilizers
Compost products can be considered mixed fertilizers, if nutritional components are added after the composting process is complete. Mixed fertilizers intended for agricultural use , which contain nutrients that are not derived from mineral form will be subject to registration under the Fertilizers Act, unless they meet a different exemption.

If no exemptions from registration can be met, the mixed fertilizer must be registered under the Fertilizers Act before it can be legally imported into or sold in Canada.

6. Directions for Use

Directions for use of the product must appear on the label and must include information such as the rate, dilution, frequency and timing of application, and the type(s) of plants/crops on which the product is intended to be used (information for each crop if different use patterns are required). In the case of many composts, the product is sold as a soil supplement only, and as such, does not require information specific to crop type, but may vary application directions based on soil type. Application rates may be expressed by either weight or volume, as long as both the total weight and volume (or product density) are present on the main panel, and both are in metric.

7. Cautionary Statements

Cautionary statements indicate to the user the precautions to observe when handling a supplement product. The need for cautionary statements depends on the composition and use of the compost and will be specific for each product.

Enhanced Feed Ban - Prohibited Material
Composts containing prohibited material must bear a label with precautionary statements in both official languages that indicate that:


  • feeding the product to cattle, sheep, deer or other ruminants is illegal and subject to fines or other punishments under the Health of Animals Act;
  • the product is not to be used on pasture land or other grazing areas for ruminants;
  • the product is not to be ingested; and
  • a person should wash his or her hands after the person uses the product.


  • qu'il est interdit d'en nourrir les bœufs, moutons, cerfs et autres ruminants et que des amendes ou autres peines sont prévues à cet égard par la Loi sur la santé des animaux,
  • qu'il ne faut pas l'utiliser sur un pâturage ou autre espace vert utilisé par les ruminants,
  • qu'il ne faut pas en ingérer,
  • qu'il faudrait se laver les mains après l'avoir utilisé.

Additional Information

8. Product Claims

Compost may fit the definition of either a supplement only or both a fertilizer and supplement together depending on the claims on the label. The label claims may also be indicative of whether or not the product would be required to be registered.

The Fertilizers Act and Regulations are the authorities under which the CFIA may pursue enforcement and compliance actions against misleading claims regarding the safe use of a product.

In addition, any claims related to disease resistance and/or pest control must not be included on a product label, unless the product has been registered by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).

9. Organic Labelling

The Organic Products Regulations, under the Canada Agricultural Products Act, are in place for import, export, and interprovincial trade. As per the Organic Products Regulations, the term "organic" ("biologique" in French) and the specified "Canada Organic" logo for international or interprovincial trade will not be permitted on fertilizer and supplement product labels unless the products have been certified by a certification body accredited by the Canada Organic Office, CFIA.

The scope of the Organic Products Regulations covers all products that meet the definition of an "agricultural product" in the Canadian Agricultural Products Act (CAPA). However, at this time, the CFIA is limiting the scope of these Regulations to only products that have a technical standard and are within the CFIA's mandate. Products that do not meet these conditions, also do not have to meet the requirements of these Regulations. As such, until a technical standard is developed for the certification of fertilizers and supplements, the Organic Products Regulations will not be applied to fertilizers and supplements represented as organic in the Canadian marketplace.

10. pH

The pH of a compost product can be a limiting factor to plant/crop growth, and a statement indicating the pH is recommended, but it is not required, on a compost product label. This statement must not appear in the guaranteed analysis section of the product label. If pH is indicated, it must be in the form of a single value, or a range of a maximum of two pH units.
e.g. pH … 5.0 - 7.0

11. Sodium (Na)

The composition of compost often lends to increased levels of sodium (Na) in the final product. Sodium is considered to be harmful to soil health and plant growth, and can even be toxic to plants if present in high concentrations. A statement indicating the sodium concentration is recommended, but it is not required, on a compost product label in order to allow consumers to determine the best use for the product. This statement must not appear in the guaranteed analysis section of the product label.

12. Language

Under the Fertilizers Regulations, label information may appear in English, French or both English and French. When a label contains information in more than one of the official languages, all information, in its entirety, must appear in both official languages on the product label. Due to the precautionary statement requirements for products which contain prohibited materials, all information on these product labels must be in both English and French.

V Safety Requirements

Products must be safe with regard to foods, occupational and public health, plants, animals and the environment.

1. Physical contaminants

Composts should not contain sharp objects, such as glass or metal, in a size and shape that can cause injury.

2. Chemical contaminants

The metals of concern include arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), chromium (Cr), mercury (Hg), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), selenium (Se) and zinc (Zn). Accumulation in soil over the long term may lead to plant, animal, environmental or human toxicity. Standards for metals in all fertilizer and supplement products (including compost, composted manure, and products represented to contain compost) are outlined in Trade Memorandum T-4-93 Standards for Metals in Fertilizers and Supplements.

The maximum concentration of metals permitted in a product depends on the application rate of the product. For an example of the maximum metal concentration allowed based on an application rate, please refer to T-4-93.

3. Biological contaminants

Salmonella and faecal coliforms are currently used as indicators of pathogen contamination and an incomplete treatment or composting process. Salmonella must be absent (non detectable). The level of faecal coliforms must be less than 1000 MPN per gram of total solids (oven-dried mass).

4. Maturity

Maturity of compost is an indication of the completion of the composting process, and the potential reduction of hazardous components. Composts must be mature in order to meet the definition of "compost" as set out in Schedule II of the Fertilizers Regulations. Therefore, in Canada, the sale of compost is restricted to those composts that have reached maturity. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to demonstrate maturity of the compost using scientifically valid methods.

5. Specified Risk Materials (SRM)

Enhanced animal health safeguards protect cattle from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease. Certain cattle tissues capable of transmitting BSE, known as specified risk material (SRM), are banned from all animal feeds, pet foods and fertilizers.

SRM are not allowed for use in fertilizer and supplement products. Compost containing any form of SRM (e.g. composted whole cattle deadstock) is considered SRM itself, and may not be sold as a fertilizer or supplement. Composting is recognized as a means for volume reduction of SRM, but has not been accepted as an inactivation method. For this reason compost containing SRM cannot be sold, but in some instances may be used with restrictions under permit.

6. Prohibited Material

There are requirements for fertilizers and supplements containing certain animal proteins known as prohibited material.

As per the regulations that govern fertilizers in general, if one or more ingredients in a compost is prohibited material, the compost is subject to the warning statements, recall and record keeping requirements detailed below. Compost that contains food grade animal protein in the form of restaurant waste, grocery store waste, or household organic collection waste will not be subject to the warning statements, recall and record keeping requirements.

Warning statements
See above - Section IV, number 7

Recall procedures
Recall procedures must be established by anyone who manufactures, imports, sells, or distributes a compost product containing prohibited material.

Record Keeping requirements
Records of manufacture of composts containing prohibited material are required to be kept for 10 years and include the following information:

  • the name and address of the supplier of the protein products;
  • a signed statement from the supplier indicating that the protein products are free from SRM;
  • the formula of the compost, including the name and weight of each ingredient used in each lot;
  • a mixing sheet that shows that each lot has been produced in accordance with the formula;
  • the date of manufacture; and
  • the name, quantity, lot number and description of the fertilizer or supplement.

Distributors and Importers
Records must be kept for the importation and distribution of composts containing prohibited material. These records must be kept for 10 years and include:

  • the name and address of any person to whom the fertilizer or supplement is sold or distributed; and
  • the name, quantity, lot number and description of the fertilizer or supplement.

Records must be kept for the sale of fertilizers and supplements containing prohibited material. These records must be kept for 10 years and include:

  • the name and address of any person to whom the fertilizer or supplement is sold or distributed; and
  • the name, quantity, lot number and description of the fertilizer or supplement.

Sellers of fertilizers or supplements which contain prohibited material as a single ingredient, or in a mixture, in weights equal to or less than 25 kg, are exempt from the requirement of requesting the name and address of the person to whom the fertilizer or supplement is sold at the final point of sale. The seller will still be required to keep information regarding the name of the products sold at their place of business as well as a description of the products and the lot numbers.

Requirements for Exporters
Fertilizers or supplements containing products of a rendering plant, or fish processing plant must be certified by the CFIA before export. Additional information may be obtained directly from the national or regional Animal Health Import/Export Office (see VII Contact Information).

Requirements for Importers
Fertilizers and supplements containing products of a rendering plant require an import permit under the Health of Animals Act. In order to be sold in Canada the products must conform to the regulations outlined above with respect to labelling, recall, and record keeping procedures. Additional information may be obtained directly from the national or regional Animal Health import/export office (see VII Contact Information).

VI Sampling

The intent of the sampling methodology is to ensure that the sample obtained is representative of the composition of the product, as it is sold. Clean sampling equipment and containers must be used to prevent contamination of the sample.

1. Sampling Equipment

Sampling Containers
In order to maintain the integrity of the sample, it is important to utilize sterile containers of a material which will not affect the characteristics of the compost being sampled (e.g. glass, plastic). The sampling container must be able to be sealed in order to prevent cross-contamination from time of sampling until analysis is performed. Plastic is often preferred for ease of shipment to laboratory.

Sampling Tools and Equipment
Any tools or equipment used to facilitate the sampling process must be sterilized to prevent the contamination of the sample.

2. Sampling Procedures for Compost

Bulk Compost
Prior to initiating sampling, it is imperative to determine if the pile is mature, and as such, fit for sale. If the compost pile is immature and is still in its thermophilic stage, a sample taken for pathogens may give a false negative result due to the sterilizing effect of the high temperature. To avoid sampling products that are not mature (which should not be represented for sale), only products identified by the operator as mature should be inspected.

Note: If the pile has been recently turned, it should not be sampled before at least three days have passed.

1. Randomly select the locations from which to draw sub-samples, taking care to ensure that all levels of the pile (top, middle, bottom) are sampled from. The number of locations from which to draw sub-samples is dependent upon the size of the compost pile.
<5000 m³ 10 sub-samples
5000-10000 m³ 20 sub-samples
>10000 m³ 30 sub-samples

2. To avoid microbial surface contamination, the top 8 cm of material must be removed from the surface of the pile prior to sampling. The "cleaned" area should be roughly circular and about 45 cm in diameter.

Note: The use of sterile gloves while removing the surface material is essential to prevent cross contamination. The gloves should be discarded after the scraping and a new pair of sterile gloves should be used when sampling. The same gloves can be used between sampling locations since all the samples will be combined in the same bag at the end.

3. The sub-samples are to be drawn at a depth between 30 and 60 cm (12-24 inches) from the surface of the pile. Each sub-sample should be at least 250 ml (for smaller sub-sample numbers, this volume will need to be increased) in size, and care should be taken to obtain the same size of sub-sample at each sampling location. All sub-samples are to be combined in the same sterile container and mixed to obtain a relatively homogenous sample.

4. The composite sample should be at least 5 L in size.

Packaged compost
The same principles indicated for sampling of bulk product should be applied. For packaged compost, a sample should be composited from sub-samples taken from each of 10 packages of compost, selected at random. If there are fewer than 10 packages present, take equal sub-samples from each of the packages to form the composite sample. When drawing a sample from a packaged lot, care should be taken to ensure that each package sampled is of the same lot of the same product, and that equal amounts are drawn from each package. The composite sample should be at least 5 L in size.

3. Sample Storage and Shipping

1. Information relative to the sample taken must be accurate and complete to allow traceability of the sample back to the lot from which it was sampled.

2. The actual time that the sample is exposed to the air should be as short as possible in order that the effect of moisture exchange be kept at a minimum. The sample must be properly packaged to ensure the integrity of the sample. If sample container has been compromised, place in new sample container or take measures to ensure the integrity of the sample (e.g., taping over holes in bags).

3. As soon as possible after sampling, the sample must be chilled to approximately 4 degrees Celsius, to maintain stability for analysis of sample for maturity and pathogens. "Compost Product - Keep refrigerated" is to be printed on the outside of the shipping package. Packaging for shipping must be in such a manner to maintain stability of the sample for analysis.
e.g. Sample packed in an insulated container with ice packs.

4. The sample must be sent promptly to the appropriate laboratory, to allow for analysis of sample for maturity and pathogen testing within 72 hours of sampling. In order to maintain this standard, care should be taken not to sample compost late in the week. Compost sampled early in the week will allow time for shipment to the appropriate laboratory without compromising the integrity of the sample. If compost is sampled and shipped near the end of the week, the sample may not be delivered until after the weekend, and may have been subjected to conditions which are not acceptable for determining compliance. Samples upon which analysis has not been initiated within this period may not be tested.

VII Contact Information

Fertilizer Safety Section
c/o Pre-market Application Submissions Office (PASO)
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
59 Camelot Drive
Ottawa, ON K1A 0Y9
Phone: 1-855-212-7695
Fax: 613-773-7115
Email: paso-bpdpm@inspection.gc.ca

Canada Organic Office, CFIA
1400 Merivale Road, Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0Y9 Canada
Email: OPR.RPB@inspection.gc.ca

Automated Import Reference System (AIRS)

Horticulture Section (Export/Import), Plant Health, CFIA
59 Camelot Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0Y9
Email: horticulture@inspection.gc.ca

Imports/Exports, Animal Health Offices, CFIA

Appendix A - Regulations Pertaining to Compost

The following references are made to the Fertilizers Regulations except where otherwise noted.

3.1 (3) The following fertilizers and supplements are exempt from registration:
(a) fertilizers and supplements set out in Schedule II;

(Paragraph 3.1(3)(a) and sections 12 and 20)

Item Column I
Column II
Designated Names
5.1 CLASS 5: SUPPLEMENT: A solid mature product resulting from composting, which is a managed process of bio-oxidation of a solid heterogeneous organic substrate, including a thermophilic phase. This product may be designated as to kind. Compost

- Sections 11; 12

- Section 15

- Sections 16; 18; 19; 19.1; 20; 21; 21.1

- Sections 22; 23

- Section 24

- Sections 2(1); 5(6.1); 11(1)(c); 16(1)(j); 18(1)(g.1)

- Sections 6.4(4); 46; 70; 162; 170.2; 171.1; 171.2

Appendix B - Requirements for pre-market assessments

For products that are regulated but are exempt from the registration requirement under the Fertilizers Act and Regulations, the Fertilizer Safety Section offers a Label Review service. This Label Review service is for companies wishing to receive a pre-market assessment and/or a letter of no-objection to the sale of their product. In order for the Fertilizer Safety Section to evaluate/assess a compost product the information in the checklist for Submission Requirements - Label Review must be submitted.

Note: Additional information may be requested if the Fertilizer Safety Section deems the submitted information to be insufficient for conducting a thorough evaluation/assessment of a product.

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