On June 17 2009, the United States and Canada announced a reciprocal organic-equivalency agreement. In short, organic goods certified in the United States and Canada now require no separate certification to be sold in both countries. This is a boon for our produce industry because U.S. produce comprises more than 75 percent of Canada's imports.
Although the countries recognize each other's certifications, there are some "agree-to-disagree" elements. According to the Organic Trade Association, products coming into Canada from the States will not be allowed to enter the country if they have been grown using sodium nitrate (allowed for restricted use under the U.S National Organic Program). Also, organic products grown hydroponically in the U.S. will not be allowed to be labeled organic in Canada. When it comes to meat products, U.S organic-livestock producers must submit information to distinguish whether they meet Canadian livestock-density requirements. And finally, Canada has agreed to not ship organic dairy products to the U.S. market if antibiotics were used in their production.
But even with these differences, two governments managed to come to agreement on complicated, stringent and somewhat value-oriented regulations. It begs this question: Why then can't the U.S. organic industry just get along? As a July Washington Post article pointed out, the industry is rife with consolidation, confusion and in-fighting, resulting in the biggest detriment to organics—consumer loss of confidence both here and abroad.
If the United States and Canada can come to an agreement, then surely the U.S. organic industry can work collectively to maintain the integrity of our organic standard, support enforcement of the standard and utilize our experience to address and support a healthier, safer food system—issues that resonate with consumers. How tragic would it be if we missed an opportunity to ensure not only a safer food system, but also a safer organic food system that consumers here and to the north can trust?