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US and Canada agree on organic equivalency

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 18-Jun-2009

The US and Canada have come to an agreement on organic equivalency standards, expanding organic trade opportunities, US Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced on Wednesday.

The new rules mean that both the USDA Organic seal and the Canada Organic Biologique logo – which is due to be introduced on June 30 – may be used on certified products in either country.

There had been concerns about differences between Canada’s new organic certification standards and American organic regulation. One of the major ones being that some US organic farms allow the use of sodium nitrate in soil, while it is not permitted on Canadian organic farms.

But the countries have come to a compromise, allowing products that have been certified as organic under US rules to stay on the market. However, from July 1, crops from fields treated with sodium nitrate cannot be shipped as organic to Canada.

The agreement also scraps the need for a three-year transition period from sodium nitrate use.

Following the announcement at the All Things Organic trade show and conference in Chicago, Merrigan said: "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. Today's agreement between the world's two largest organic trading partners is an important first step towards global harmonization of organic standards."

Canada’s new regulation

Until now, Canada has had a hotchpotch of different voluntary and mandatory organic certification in place in different provinces across the country. Its new Organic Products Regulations will require all Canadian organic products to be endorsed by a certification body accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The rules were designed to create a nationwide standard for Canadian products, but when they were first brought forward in 2006, they raised fears that products that were previously accepted as organic from other countries including the US could be shut out if they did not comply. The revised version that will come into force at the end of this month has been designed to bring Canadian requirements for organic certification in line with those of its major trading partners in the US and Europe, as well as to protect consumers.

The USDA’s final rule on national organic standards was fully implemented in October 2002.

The organic products industry is the fastest growing sector of Canadian agriculture, with annual growth of 15 to 20 percent over the past decade, according to the Canadian Food and Drug Law Institute.

Meanwhile, the organic sector in the US is forecast to experience “slowing but steady growth” of 19 percent to 2013, according to market research organization Mintel.