I was surprised last week when the United States and the European Union jointly announced that, from June 1, 2012, any product certified as organic in either place can be labeled and sold as organic in the other one. This is really amazing if you look at the history of food fights between Washington and Brussels. I mean, just think about the decades of trade bloodshed over growth hormones in beef, genetically-modified organisms, use of antibiotics in the food chain – and countless more. It often seems as if Europe and America can’t agree on anything to do with food. But now they do.
Accustomed to squabbling with each other, it seems that food experts on both sides of the Atlantic realized they had come up – independently – with near identical definitions for “organic” foods. You can check for yourself here for Europe’s rules – or here for America’s. There was a time when this realization would have prompted attempts to remake the definitions to exclude the other region’s products. But no longer.
The combined organics sectors in the United States and the European Union are a roughly $50 billion industry. And we are not just talking about your nearby farmer selling at a local market. Take a look at any grocery aisle (maybe not the snackfood aisle) and you will see products labeled as organic. The trade implications of such products moving freely across the Atlantic are immense.
“This partnership connects organic farmers and companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a wide range of new market opportunities.” – U.S Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.
“… farmers and food producers will benefit from easier access, with less bureaucracy and less costs … it improves transparency on organic standards, and enhances consumers’ confidence and recognition of our organic food and products.” – EU Commissioner for agriculture & rural development Dacian Cioloş.
Of course, things aren’t quite so simple. Organic products still have to meet labeling requirements and require export documentation to prove they are organic. And there are some exceptions. U.S. growers are not allowed to ship crops produced using antibiotics (e.g., streptomycin for fire blight control in apples and pears). EU shippers can’t send animal products treated with antibiotics to the United States, either. Oddly, the EU can’t send fish or shellfish to the United States. The new requirements are here.