The agreement was signed yesterday at the organic trade show - BioFach - in Nuremberg, Germany by the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Cioloş and the US Agriculture Deputy Secretary, Kathleen Merrigan.
The deal means that all products meeting the terms of the partnership can be traded and labelled as certified organic from meats to cereal or wine in the two markets.
Increase in trade enabled
Amie Johns, Soil Association certification quality manager, told FoodNavigator.com that the mutual recognition of the National Organic Program (NOP) and the EU organic regulations will lessen restrictions on trade, as organic producers and processors will no longer require additional certification in order to export their products.
Previously, growers and companies wanting to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications for two standards, which meant a double set of fees, inspections, and paperwork.
“This requirement may have deterred businesses in the past, and so we would expect to see an increase in trade of organic ingredients and products as a result of the agreement,” said Johns.
Further commenting, she said: “This is a long-awaited decision that we know has been several years in the making. It is a huge task to come to such an agreement. The EU regulations and the NOP have stricter standards than the other in some respects, and it will have taken a lot of work to reconcile those differences."
In the lead up to the deal, the US and EU parties conducted on-site audits to ensure that their regulations, quality control measures, certification requirements, and labelling practices were compatible.
Antibiotic usage differs
Although there are small differences between the US and EU organic standards, it was determined that the programmes were equivalent except for the prohibition on the use of antibiotics.
The USDA organic regulations ban the use of antibiotics except to control invasive bacterial infections in organic apple and pear orchards. The EU rules allow antibiotics only to treat infected animals. For all products traded under this agreement, certifying agents must verify that antibiotics were not used for any reason.
Johns explained that this aspect is something that EU certification bodies will be monitoring closely:
“The sole condition for products sold in the US is that any livestock products must not have come from a farm where antibiotics are used. This has always been a requirement under the NOP and so producers will have to continue to comply under this agreement if they wish to supply to the US market,” she added.
Christine Bushway, executive director and CEO of the US-based Organic Trade Association (OTA) said it was a monumental agreement that would be game changing for the industry and would further create jobs in the "already growing and healthy US organic sector" while being mutually beneficial to farmers both in the US and the EU as well as to consumers chosing to buy organic.
The EU Commissioner noted: "This agreement comes with a double added value. On the one hand, organic farmers and food producers will benefit from easier access, with less bureaucracy and less costs, to both the US 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.”
The deal also sees the Commission’s DG for Agriculture and Rural Development and the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) taking on oversight roles in relation to organic trade between the two regions and the two regulators will also collaborate on initiatives to promote organic production and tackle important topics such as animal welfare and other issues.
The organics sector in the US and the EU is valued at roughly €40bn combined.
The largest growth of organic agricultural land in 2010 was in Europe, where the area increased by 0.8 million hectares to reach 10 million hectares (+9 % compared with 2009), according to newly released data from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).