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US and Canada reach organic equivalency agreement

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have reached an historic agreement to recognize each other's national organic programs as equivalent.

The agreement was announced June 17 by USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan at the Organic Trade Association's All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show in Chicago.

The agreement, which takes effect June 30, will allow products certified to either U.S. or Canadian standards to be sold or labeled in both countries as organically produced.

"The production of organic foods is a vibrant growth opportunity for American agriculture, and by agreeing on a common set of organic principles with Canada, we are expanding market opportunities for our producers to sell their products abroad," Merrigan said at the conference. "This is the first step toward global harmonization of organic standards and marks an historic moment for the organic community."

Merrigan's announcement drew a standing ovation and cheers from the standing-room-only audience, according to OTA press secretary Barbara Haumann.

"Everyone is very excited about this," she said.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk issued a statement congratulating the USDA and the CFIA on the agreement.

"This close cooperation is the first of its kind in international organics trade and a real achievement for both countries," Kirk said.

Under equivalency, producers and processors certified to the National Organic Program standards by a USDA-accredited certifying agent do not have to become certified to the Canada Organic Product Regulation standards for their products to be represented as organic in Canada. Similarly, Canadian organic products certified to Canadian standards may be sold or labeled in the U.S. as organic. Both the USDA organic seal and the Canada Organic Biologique logo may be used on certified products from both countries.

"Consumers will benefit from equivalency, as they have access to a more affordable range of organic products, increased product diversity and a reliable supply chain," said OTA Executive Director Christine Bushway. "As a result, consumers will continue to have confidence in the organic integrity and government oversight of the products they buy."

Canada is the largest export market for U.S. organic products, and the USDA estimates that more than 75 percent of Canada's organic consumption comes from the U.S. Estimates for the total market for organic products in Canada range from $2.1 billion to $2.6 billion. Sales of organic products in the U.S. have grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $24.6 billion in 2008, according to the USDA.

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