In a historic agreement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and European Union (EU) today announced a partnership that allows certified organic products to be sold in either region beginning June 1. The equivalent organic standards eliminate the need for organic growers and companies to obtain separate certifications, resulting in increased market access and transparency for businesses and consumers.
Government leaders affirmed the partnership in Nuremberg, Germany, on Feb. 15 during the BioFach World Organic Fair, the largest trade show for organic products in the world. Present at the event, U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said the agreement "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."
Dacian Ciolos, the European commissioner for agriculture and rural development, cited easier access, less bureaucracy and the elimination of a double set of fees and inspections as wins for organic producers and farmers.
The interchangeable certification requires that all products must be shipped with an organic export certificate containing basic information about the products' origin and organic verification. And good news—very little change, if at all, will be necessary for organic businesses and growers to begin selling their products across the Atlantic.
Currently, the U.S. and EU organic standards differ only in the allowance of antibiotic use. USDA prohibits antibiotics unless used to control invasive bacterial infections in organic apple and pear orchards. The EU allows antibiotics to only treat infected animals.
Under the new partnership, antibiotics may not be used for any reason. All products meeting the terms of the partnership can be traded and labeled as certified organic produce, meat, cereal, or wine.
What the new organic partnership means for your business
Congratulations, organic companies! Your market just doubled. In particular, small- and medium-sized organic producers will significantly benefit from the decreased market barriers, such as costs.
"Everybody was hoping that this day would come, and that we could have free trade in organic agriculture and get consumers what they want," Merrigan told NPR. Indeed, independent natural retailers looking to differentiate themselves from the competition now could boast European organic imports.
In 2010, customers around the globe purchased $59 billion worth of organic products, according to Amarjit Sahota, managing director of London-based Organic Monitor. In the wake of today's announcement, will the North American organic market remain the biggest single market ahead of Europe? USDA officials predict that U.S. organic exports to Europe will triple within three years.
Organic growth will be the number to watch in the coming years as trade speeds up between the U.S. and Europe. In 2010, the U.S. organic market enjoyed 8 percent growth compared with 1 percent growth in the conventional food market, according to the Organic Trade Association's Organic Industry Survey 2011.
Anticipating many new entrants into both organic markets, the U.S. and EU will periodically review both organic programs to ensure the integrity of the partnership. The governments also plan to collaborate on improving organic crop and livestock production on both sides of the Atlantic—a win for organic standards worldwide.
What excites you most about the new organic partnership? Will you now export to the EU? Tell us in the comments.