Certified organic products can now move freely between U.S. and EU

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COLUMBUS — Organic products certified in the United States or in Europe may be sold as organic in either region starting June 1.

This new partnership between the United States and the European Union, announced Feb. 15 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, makes the $26.7 billion U.S. organic market functionally equivalent to Europe’s organic market.

Together, the U.S. and EU organic markets are valued at more than $50 billion, according to the USDA.

The partnership also means U.S. organic growers no longer have to comply with often-contradictory rules setting different organic standards for each country. All products meeting the terms of the partnership can be traded and labeled as certified organic produce, meat, cereal or wine.

One Ohio State University expert says the agreement could provide new market opportunities for Ohio growers.

Ohio potential

The move means there are fewer regulatory hurdles for certified organic growers who want to export their products to Europe, 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.

He said it could also boost food processors that use organic ingredients.

Stan Ernst, an Ohio State University Extension agricultural economist, said the agreement “will open new markets for certain producers.”

“Anything that makes the policies a little more uniform has to make it easier for the supply chain to work,” Ernst said.

Antibiotic use

Although there are small differences between the U.S. and European Union organic standards, both parties individually determined their programs were equivalent except for the prohibition on the use of antibiotics.

The USDA organic regulations prohibit the use of antibiotics except to control invasive bacterial infections (fire blight) in organic apple and pear orchards. The European Union organic regulations allow antibiotics only to treat infected animals. For all products traded under this partnership, certifying agents must verify that antibiotics were not used for any reason.

Organic research

OFFER provides science-based information to Ohio’s organic farmers. The nationally known organic farming research program is part of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, which is the research arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

U.S. organic exports reached approximately $1.8 billion in 2010, and the USDA expects that number to grow 8 percent annually over the next several years.

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