At a press event Feb. 15 at BioFach Germany, European Commissioner Dacian Ciolos for the European Union's (EU) Agriculture and Rural Development and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced the signing of an organic equivalence arrangement between the world's two largest markets for organic food.

Under the proposed arrangement, the EU and United States will work together to promote strong organic programs, protect organic standards, enhance cooperation, and facilitate trade in organic products.

(The U.S. and Canada recently reached an agreement on the import/export of organic ruminant animals. That information can be found at http://southeastfarmpress.com/livestock/us-canada-reach-organic-trade-agreement).

Officials noted the EU/U.S. organic equivalence cooperation arrangement will expand market access for organic producers and companies by reducing duplicative requirements and certification costs on both sides of the ocean while continuing to protect organic integrity.

(As organic acreage has increased in the Southeast, research efforts into the crops have been ramped up. One example can be found here).

 "This monumental agreement will further create jobs in the already growing and healthy U.S. organic sector, spark additional market growth, and be mutually beneficial to farmers both in the United States and European Union as well as to consumers who choose organic products," said Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO of the U.S.-based Organic Trade Association (OTA).

She added, "Equivalence with the EU will be an historic game changer."

As a result, certified organic products as of June 1 can move freely between the United States and EU borders provided they meet the terms of the new arrangement.

Under the agreement, the EU will recognize the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) as equivalent to the EU Organic Program and allow products produced and certified as meeting USDA NOP standards to be marketed as organic in the EU. 

Likewise, the United States will allow European products produced and certified under the EU Organic Program to be marketed as organic in the United States.

Access to markets

The agreement will allow access to each other's markets provided (1) antibiotics were not administered to animals for products entering the United States, and (2) antibiotics were not used to control fire blight in apples and pears for products entering the European Union.

To facilitate trade, the EU and United States have agreed to work together to promote electronic certification of import transaction certificates.

The arrangement is limited to organic products of U.S. or EU origin produced, processed or packaged within these jurisdictions.

Additionally, both programs have agreed to exchange information on animal welfare issues, and on methods to avoid contamination of organic products from genetically modified organisms. General country labeling requirements must still be met.

"On behalf of the U.S. organic industry, OTA extends its sincere appreciation to the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), National Organic Program, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), and OTA's U.S.-EU Equivalency Task Force for all their efforts in maintaining and expanding foreign export markets for USDA certified organic products globally.

The results are mutually beneficial arrangements with our major trading partners that uphold the integrity of food grown and labeled as organic," Bushway said.

OTA convened its U.S.-EU Equivalency Task Force in May 2010 to monitor, analyze and discuss emerging issues from organic equivalency discussions between the United States and EU, and directly advised FAS and USTR on the industry's perspective on these negotiations and market potential.

This task force is made up of 34 industry volunteers from across the supply chain, from produce and grain companies to dairy producers and certification agencies.

It is led by OTA's Executive Vice-President Laura Batcha and Jake Lewin of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) as co-chairs, with Bob Anderson (Sustainable Strategies — Advisors in Food & Agriculture) serving as ex officio.

For more information, see OTA's EU-U.S. equivalence Web page (http://www.ota.com/GlobalMarkets/US-EU-Organic-Equivalence-Arrangement.html) or USDA's website (http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=LATEST_RELEASES).