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EU hosts luncheon celebrating organic trade agreement

2012_0510_FarrEUorganic


Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., left, prepares to make remarks to the organic gathering
in
the company of European diplomats and their guests. (The Hagstrom Report/Jerry Hagstrom)


By JERRY HAGSTROM

Some members of Congress took a break from their political battles Thursday to celebrate the U.S.-EU organic trade agreement at a luncheon hosted by the European Union in the Capitol.
Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.
“I get discouraged by a lot of things, but I am encouraged by this,” said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., the co-chair of the Congressional Organic Caucus. “It is the beginning of a brand new movement worldwide.”

Farr was referring to an agreement announced Feb. 15 that will allow most organic foods produced in the United States and European Union countries to move freely among those countries and be sold in them without separate inspections and fees. The agreement takes effect June 1.

Farr noted that when he was in the state legislature in the early 1990s, California organic farmers asked him to help pass a law to develop standards because merchants could just attach the word “organic” to anything.
Joao Vale de Almeida

Joao Vale de Almeida

“The United States and the European Union are the two largest producers of organic food,” noted EU Ambassador to the United States Joao Vale de Almeida. The agreement showed that “when the United States and the European Union are together, they can make a difference,” Vale de Almeida said. “This will create jobs, which is the focus of leaders” on both sides of the Atlantic, he added.

U.S. Chief Agriculture Trade Negotiator Islam Siddiqui agreed, saying the agreement is “bigger than accepting two standards” of equivalency. It showed that a high-level working group composed of U.S. and EU officials could create jobs and growth.

A crowd of members, aides, lobbyists and journalists drank organic French wine, tasted organic Austrian pumpkin seeds and juices, and sampled organic Mossfield cheese from the same area where President Barack Obama’s Irish ancestors lived.

“You are at the right place at the right time,” Farr said, noting that as health care costs rise, the issue is “how do we grow healthier people?” Serving nutrition food to children, he said, will help the movement from the bottom up.

Nora Pouillon

Nora Pouillon
Nora Pouillon, owner of the Restaurant Nora in Washington, the nation’s first certified organic restaurant, said that when she came to the United States from Austria in the 1960s, she noticed that people ate badly and seemed unhealthy. When she started the restaurant, Pouillon said, she drove out to farms to reach agreement with farmers. The new agreement, she said, “will bring health and wealth to both countries.”

Trade in organic products does face challenges because many organic consumers prefer their food to be local. One New York merchant recently told The Hagstrom Report that he believes his customers will be more likely to buy organic Italian olive oil if it is marked “USDA certified organic.”

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who helped write the U.S. organic standards law, said European organic products will be able to carry the USDA-certified label if they meet the standards.

Laura Batcha of the Organic Trade Association acknowledged that “American consumers like domestic food,” but added that with organic food the consumer also has the comfort of knowing that everything has to be certified.