U.S., Canada reach organic trade agreement

Published on
June 17, 2009

After years of working on their respective organic rules, the United States and Canada agreed on Wednesday to accept each other’s organic standards.

The agreement, between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), will allow the continued smooth trade of certified organic products between the two countries. It is the first “equivalency” agreement for the organic industry worldwide.

“This is the first step toward global harmonization of organic standards, and marks an historic moment for the organic community,” said Kathleen Merrigan, USDA deputy secretary, at the All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show in Chicago this week. Harmonization of organic standards can greatly speed up the exporting and importing process.

While neither the United States nor Canada have finalized certified organic standards for aquaculture products, the new agreement will help facilitate the trade of certified organic products that contain seafood ingredients.

In order to place the USDA Organic seal on processed products, a product must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients, or contain 100 percent organic ingredients. However, a processed product with a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients, can be labeled "made with organic ingredients," but cannot use the USDA Organic seal. Similar percentages and labels apply in Canada and the European Union.

The U.S. National Organic Standards Board is closer to finalizing organic aquaculture standards, which have been controversial because of the type of feed ingredients that can be used and because of the proposed allowance of ocean-open net pens. Canada’s organic aquaculture standards are still a year or two away from being finalized, said Organic Trade Association Canada Managing Director Matthew Holmes.

“The working group for organic aquaculture standards are reviewing draft standards,” said Holmes. Given the equivalency agreement signed today, Holmes sees an “optimistic future” for trade of organic aquaculture products between the two countries.

Facilitating organic trade across the border is important because Canada is the largest U.S. trade partner and the largest estimated export market for U.S. organic products. USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service office in Ottawa estimates that more than 80 percent of Canada's organic consumption comes from imports, and approximately 75 percent of those imports come from the United States.

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Contributing Editor



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