U.S. and EU reach agreement on organic trade

A historic new partnership between the United States and the European Union announced last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture means that organic foods certified in the U.S. can be sold in Europe for the first time — a move that could provide new market opportunities for Ohio growers.

The agreement, which now makes the $26.7 billion U.S. organic market functionally equivalent to Europe’s organic market, means organic growers nationwide no longer have to comply with often-contradictory rules setting different organic standards for each country.

This important step is built upon years of progress in organic agriculture.

“Ten years have passed since the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its National Organic Program (NOP). You may recognize the ‘USDA Organic’ seal on thousands of fruits, vegetables, meat or other goods you can buy at the local market. The program combines detailed organic standards with a rigorous oversight and enforcement system. It also provides access to the U.S. market for imported organic products that meet our standards,” said Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a recent blog. “The integrity of this system has helped propel strong growth in consumer demand for certified organic products.”

Trade barriers, however, have long limited the potential for growth in Europe.

“I was happy to announce that beginning June 1, products certified as organic in the United States or European Union can be sold as organic in the other market, reducing costs and removing burdensome barriers for thousands of U.S. organic farmers wanting to export their goods to Europe,” Merrigan said. “This agreement between the world’s two largest organic producing markets is truly a game changer for America’s blossoming organic industry,”

There is already a similar agreement in place with Canada, and efforts are underway for organic agreements with Japan, South Korea, and Mexico. Ultimately, this will mean fewer regulatory hurdles for certified organic growers who want to export their products, said Brian McSpadden Gardener, director of Ohio State’s Organic Food and Farming Education and Research Program (OFFER) in Wooster.

“While most organic growers in Ohio focus largely on local and regional markets, some are already exporting their products internationally,” McSpadden Gardener said. “This new agreement should help that subset of growers and also positively impact innovative food processors that use organic ingredients.”

Stan Ernst, an Ohio State University Extension agricultural economist, called the agreement “generally a good thing.”

“Anything that makes the policies a little more uniform has to make it easier for the supply chain to work,” Ernst said. “It will open new markets for certain producers.”

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