Question: How will the new EU-US organic trade deal impact us?
Answer: In a good way (we think)
In case you missed it, the United States and the European Union signed a landmark trade deal regarding organic food last week. Christine Bushway, the Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association is calling this agreement an “historic game changer” –a pretty big claim, if you ask me. Since the agreement has yet to go into effect, the impacts remain speculative, but here are a few things I found out when I looked into it:
The basics ~ Under the EU-US Organic Equivalence Cooperation Agreement, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) and the European Union Organic Program will be considered equal starting June 1, 2012. This means that products that are certified organic through the EU Organic program will now be able to be marketed in the United States as “organic” – and vice versa. Before now, if an organic grower wanted to market their produce in both the EU and the US, they would have to be certified by both systems –which is often redundant and always costly. This important new deal will, as the agreement claims, “expanded market access, reduce duplicative requirements, and lower certification costs for the trade in organic products.”
The deal will only apply to products that originate, or are ultimately processed and packaged, in the European Union or the United States. It will not benefit organic growers in other countries that market their goods in either the EU or US. The two parties did agree, however, to future collaboration and cooperation regarding control and approval in third-party countries.
Most disparities in organic production standards between the regions are minor and will be disregarded for trade purposes. The major exception is antibiotic use. In the US, organic apple and pear farmers are permitted to use certain antibiotics to control a disease called fire blight. In Europe, animal farmers are required to use antibiotics to treat sick animals, whereas in the US, any animal treated with antibiotics is prohibited from being sold as organic. These standards will not change under this new agreement. All meat sold in the US will still have to be antibiotic free, as will all fruit sold in the EU.
What this means for farmers~ Both regions are experiencing growing demand for organics, which, when combined with less complicated export requirements, could make it significantly easier for farmers and manufacturers to find a high-value markets for their goods on either side of the Atlantic.
Expanded markets will hopefully make organic farming more profitable for some. In all likelihood, large farms that have a production scale amenable to transatlantic export will be the biggest beneficiaries. However, the U.S. hopes that the deal will also benefit smaller operations as well. “Larger operations can compete quite easily [already], but I think that this deal will make it easier for small and medium-sized organic producers to access new markets, because we are removing…barriers,” said Isi Siddiqui, chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative.
Because expanded market access and reduced certification costs are likely to make organic farming more profitable, the new trade deal might provide incentives for conventional growers to switch to organic production. Fewer chemical pesticides and fertilizers contaminating our air, ground, and water? Yes please.
What this means for consumers~ An exciting element of this trade agreement is its impact on selection and availability of organically produced food. Since Europe basically shares our growing season, it is not likely to make a huge difference for everyday fresh produce. However, for manufactured products that European countries specialize in, this could mean a real difference for US consumers – think olive oil, chocolate, and wine (oh, my!).
In addition to greater access and variety, consumers will also benefit from better knowledge about their food choices. The European products we are ingesting may already be produced organically, but are prohibited from being marketed as such due to current regulations. The agreement will hopefully allow us to make more informed decisions about our food choices.
Sources For This Blog Post
Coming Soon To Your Grocery Aisle: Organic Food From Europe (by Dan Charles for NPR’s food blog, The Salt, February 15, 2012)
EU, US Ink Organic Food Deal (AFP, February 15, 2012)
EU-US Sign Historic Organic Trade Agreement (Farm Futures, February 16, 2012)