US and Canada to agree on organic equivalency by summer

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Percent organic ingredients, Organic food, National organic program

The US and Canada have agreed to finalize negotiations on organic equivalency standards between the countries by this summer, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Until now, Canada has had a hotchpotch of different voluntary and mandatory organic certification in place in different provinces across the country. The new Organic Products Regulations, due to be implemented on June 30, 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 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 USDA’s final rule on national organic standards was fully implemented in October 2002 and is slightly different from the new Canadian regulation.

Deputy administrator in charge of the National Organic Program at the USDA Barbara Robinson said at a conference last week that the two governments’ intention is to reach an agreement before the introduction of the new rules for Canadian organic produce. This would ensure that trade could continue uninterrupted.

In response to the announcement, managing director of the OTA in Canada Matthew Holmes said: “Canadian consumers will definitely benefit from this, and will continue to enjoy quality year-round organic products from the United States. At the same time, Canadian farmers and manufacturers will be able to certify to our organic standards without having to take on additional, redundant certifications to sell into the United States – so everybody wins.”

Equivalency issues

The first draft of Canada’s new regulations, brought forward in 2006, raised concerns over possible restrictions on imports and exports of organic foods due to a lack of allowance for equivalency between countries’ certification procedures.

The new version has been designed to bring Canadian requirements for organic certification in line with those of its major trading partners in Europe and the US, as well as to protect consumers.

However, there are still some differences between American and Canadian organic regulations that need to be ironed out. For example, some US organic farms allow the use of sodium nitrate in the soil, while it is not permitted on Canadian organic farms.

The new rules

The OTA partnered with government in order to produce and revise the regulations, and has been working with growers and manufacturers of organic products for the past year and a half in order to adjust organic standards in time for the new regulation.

From June, products that contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients will be eligible for organic certification in Canada but those containing 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients will have to carry additional information on the product label identifying the percentage of each organic ingredient.

Those products that contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients will be restricted to making organic claims on the ingredient list.

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.

The OTA is a membership-based organization that represents the interests of organic growers, suppliers, distributors and farmers’ associations across North America.

Related topics: Organics, Regulation

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