The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


US, EU reach organic equivalency agreement

Kathleen Merrigan

Kathleen Merrigan

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced today that the United States and the European Union have reached agreement to allow organic products certified in Europe or in the United States to be sold as organic in either region beginning June 1.

Merrigan said in a telephone interview from the BioFach World Organic Fair in Nuremberg, Germany, that the agreement would help fulfill the Obama administration’s commitment to doubling U.S. exports. The agreement will be particularly helpful in helping smaller producers avoid double standards, double fees and paper work when exporting products, Merrigan said, adding that it will make the export of items with multiple ingredients much easier.

“This is great for the United States and the European Union and also globally,” Merrigan said, noting that the combined value of the U.S. and European organic market is $50 billion per year. “This is breaking ground in harmonizing organic standards. The United States and the European Union are the greatest players in the organic marketplace.”

Organic exports reached approximately $1.8 billion in 2010, and that number is expected to grow 8 percent annually over the next several years, USDA said in a news release, but the numbers could be higher.

Merrigan said that although the Obama administration has asked the International Trade Commission to develop export codes for organic products, it is still hard to find reliable statistics on organic imports and exports. The most popular U.S. organic exports have been apples, pears, tomato sauce, she said, adding that U.S. consumers would enjoy easier access to organic chocolate and olive oil.

The United States and the European Union said in similar press releases that the two entities had determined their organic standards were essentially equivalent.

One difference is that USDA organic regulations prohibit the use of antibiotics except to control invasive bacterial infections (fire blight) in organic apple and pear orchards, while 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.

The papers were signed at the BioFach show by Merrigan, European Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, and U.S. Chief Agriculture Negotiator Islam Siddiqui.
Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt.

Sen. Patrick Leahy
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said that even though organics are the fastest growing sector in U.S. agriculture, demand for organic products is growing even faster in Europe, at 10 to 15 percent per year despite the recession.

Leahy chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee and employed Merrigan as an aide when the organic standards act was written in the 1990 farm bill,

“By expanding our farmers’ opportunities to sell their organic products overseas, we are expanding the job opportunities and economic growth for organic agriculture in this country,” Leahy said. “This industry has come so far in the last 22 years, and reaching this new milestone will open doors to even more economic opportunities for our organic farmers and processors.

Christine Bushway

Christine Bushway
Christine Bushway, executive director and CEO of the U.S.-based Organic Trade Association, welcomed the announcement.

“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,” Bushway said. “Equivalence with the EU will be an historic game changer.”