U.S., European Organic Standards Declared Equivalent

Some view agreement on organic standards as a positive step for producers, while others question whether it will cause more problems.

| September/October 2012

Maine has some 30 organic-certified maple syrup producers, huddled mainly on the state’s border with Quebec. Maple syrup is a popular organic sweetener in the European Union. It would stand to reason, then, that Maine would export a lot of organic maple syrup to the EU. But that hasn’t been the case, says Russell Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Unity, Maine.

“It hasn’t been so easy to ship overseas because of the standards difference,” Libby says.

For years, differing organic standards in the United States and the European Union have discouraged organic maple syrup exports. While many organic certification standards are similar between the two regions, U.S. organic farmers have been required to obtain separate certification to sell in the EU and vice versa. Many maple farms are family-run operations, and owners have neither the time nor the resources to go through the process to get dual certification, Libby says.

But early in 2012, agriculture officials in Europe and the United States announced an agreement that declared the two sets of standards equivalent, meaning most organic farmers in the two areas will only have to be certified once to do business on both sides of the Atlantic. The equivalency agreement is being hailed by many important organic stakeholders as an opportunity to expand the organic marketplace, but not everyone is convinced.

At least one respected organic industry watchdog, the Cornucopia Institute, Cornucopia, Wisconsin, has expressed concerns that the move could weaken farming standards in both regions.

The agreement most likely will be a game-changer, says Barbara Haumann, a senior science writer with the Organic Trade Association, based in Brattleboro, Vermont. The market for organic food in the EU’s 27 member states is as robust as it is in the United States, with recent annual sales of about $26 billion in the EU and $26.7 billion in America. The U.S. organic market has created jobs at four times the national average, but that hasn’t always translated into international growth because of countries’ differing standards, argue some organic stakeholders. Aligning the organic standards will encourage more organic farmers to export, Haumann says.

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