USA, European Union Sign Organic Foods Trade Partnership

NUREMBERG, Germany, February 22, 2012 (ENS) – As of June 1, 2012, organic products certified in Europe or in the United States may be sold as organic in either region under a new partnership agreement signed last week in Nurember at the BioFach World Organic Fair, the world’s largest trade show for organic products.

All products meeting the terms of the agreement can be traded and labeled as certified organic produce, meat, cereal, or wine.

The organic food sector in the United States and European Union is valued at roughly 40 billion euros (US$53 billion) combined, and rising every year.

Celebrating with organic wine at an Organic Food Festival in England (Photo by Soil Association)

This partnership between the two largest producers of organic foods in the world takes EU-U.S. agricultural trade relations to a new level of cooperation. It is intended to establish a strong foundation from which to promote organic agriculture and the growing organic industry.

Formal letters creating the partnership were signed by Dacian Ciolos, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development; Kathleen Merrigan, U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary; and Ambassador Isi Siddiqui, U.S. Trade Representative chief agricultural negotiator.

“This partnership connects organic farmers and companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a wide range of new market opportunities,” said Merrigan. “It is a win for the American economy and President Obama’s jobs strategy. This partnership will open new markets for American farmers and ranchers, create more opportunities for small businesses, and result in good jobs for Americans who package, ship, and market organic products.”

Previously, growers and companies wanting to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications to two standards, which meant a double set of fees, inspections, and paperwork.

The new partnership eliminates these barriers, which have been especially difficult for for small and medium-sized organic producers.

“This agreement comes with a double added value,” said Commissioner Ciolos. “On the one hand, organic farmers and food producers will benefit from easier access, with less bureaucracy and less costs, to both the U.S. and the EU markets, strengthening the competitiveness of this sector. In addition, it improves transparency on organic standards, and enhances consumers’ confidence and recognition of our organic food and products.”

In the run-up to the agreement, both parties conducted thorough on-site audits to ensure that their programs’ regulations, quality control measures, certification requirements, and labeling practices are compatible.

Although there are small differences between the U.S. and European Union organic standards, both parties individually determined that their programs are equivalent except for the prohibition on the use of antibiotics.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic regulations prohibit the use of antibiotics except to control invasive bacterial infections such as fire blight in organic apple and pear orchards.

The European Union organic regulations allow antibiotics only to treat infected animals.

For all products traded under this partnership, certifying agents must verify that antibiotics were not used for any reason.

All products traded under the partnership must be shipped with an organic export certificate. This document will show the production location, identify the organization that certified the organic product, verify that prohibited substances and methods were not used, certify that the terms of the partnership were met, and allow traded products to be tracked.

“This is a significant step in strengthening our bilateral trade relations,” added Ambassador Isi Siddiqui. “I am confident that this arrangement will facilitate and boost agriculture trade between the European Union and the United States – and lead to more jobs in this important sector for both America and Europe.”

Both parties say they are committed to ensuring that all traded organic products meet the terms of the partnership, retaining their organic integrity from farm to market.

The European Commission’s Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development and the USDA National Organic Program, which oversees all U.S. organic products, will both take on key oversight roles.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.