U.S. and E.U. sign historic organic food trade agreement - FreshFruitPortal.com

U.S. and E.U. sign historic organic food trade agreement

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U.S. and E.U. sign historic organic food trade agreement

The United States and the European Union have agreed that each other's organic product certifications are fit for trade in both markets, following thorough on-site audits to check compatibility in quality control methods, certification requirements and labeling practices.

The deal reached yesterday will come into effect in June and will open up a US$50 billion market for both parties, with growing opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Both U.S Deputy Agriculture Secretary Merrigan and the E.U. Commissioner responsible for agriculture and rural development Dacian Ciolos, were upbeat on the decision.

"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," said Merrigan.

"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 U.S. and the EU markets, strengthening the competitiveness of this sector," said Ciolos.

"In addition, it improves transparency on organic standards, and enhances consumers' confidence and recognition of our organic food and products."

At the moment growers need to obtain seperate certifications to ship to the U.S. and E.U., which means a double set of fees, inspections and paperwork.

A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) release highlighted the deal will eliminate significant barriers, especially for small to medium-sized organic producers.

Both parties agreed that while there were small differences in the entities' organic certification standards, they were equivalent except for the prohibition of antibiotics. In the U.S., antibiotics are not allowed in organic production except to control evasive bacterial infections such as fire blight in pome fruit orchards, while E.U. rules only allow their use in the treatment of infected animals.

To get over this hurdle, certifying agents must verify antibiotics were not used for any reason for all products traded under the partnership.

In addition, all products traded under the partnership must be shipped with an organic export certificate that complies with the following standards:

- Shows the product location.

- Identifies the organization that certified the organic product.

- Verifies that prohibited substances and methods weren't used.

- Certify that the terms of the partnership were met.

- Allows traded products to be tracked.

The USDA release said the U.S. and the E.U. would continue to have regular  discussions and will review each other's programs periodically to  verify that the terms of the partnership are being met.

The USDA is working to promote greater international organic trade with exports of US$1.8 billion in 2010, which is a figure that is expected to grow at an annual rate of 8% for the coming years. The U.S. organic market itself also grew by 8% in 2010 to reach US$28.6 billion.

Statistics shows that two thirds of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally and 28% buy organic products weekly.

Industry response

The Organic Trade Association welcomed the decision, as did a wide range of organic industry players.

"This long-awaited agreement is a momentous step toward growing organic trade between the world's two largest consumer markets for organic food," said Organic Trade Association CEO Christine Bushway.

"It will mean more open avenues for organic producers, and will encourage U.S. farmers to expand their acreage to produce more environmentally sustainable crops."

"With the world's major organic systems working together, the impact on agriculture will be as profound as the potential for trade is massive," added International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) world board member Matthew Holmes.

Uncle Matt's Organic-Florida citrus grower and marketer Matt McLean, hailed the agreement yesterday as a "great day of celebration".

"This monumental agreement opens new possibilities for our farmers, and expands the value of their crops. The EU market will beckon more U.S. producers who have the capacity to produce organic products for export.

"At the same time, the agreement will make it easier for U.S. manufacturers to obtain ingredients that they need to import from the EU.

California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) chief certification officer Jake Lewin said eliminating the distraction of multi-standard organic certification would strengthen the application of organic standards nationwide.

"As a result of this agreement, we expect that more than 800 CCOF farmers and processors will see a reduction in their overall fees and complexity of certification," he said.

"I cannot wait to tell this to our farming and processing clients who have been managing multiple certification programs for years. These dedicated individuals can now turn their attention to managing their operations and producing more organic goods instead of chasing paperwork for overlapping standards."

CCOF executive director Cathy Calfo said the agreement was vital to specialty crop growers, who number more than 2,000 in California alone.

"These producers will be able to expand sales in a vibrant European Union market, inspiring growth in a sector that is already creating jobs and economic opportunity.

"Organic is the sole U.S. agricultural sector that is realizing growth in sales and jobs, according to 2011 reports."

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