After much anticipation the Equivalency Agreement between Canada and the United States finally came into affect as of July 1st 2009. This agreement will bring forth prosperous opportunity for organic farmers on both sides of the border and should also prove to be advantageous for Atlantic Canadian organic growers. Holly Givens recently wrote in an American article that organic producers should start expecting “…potatoes, apples, berries and other farm products with the Canadian organic logo alongside the “USDA Organic” seal.” Much of which will likely be from Atlantic Canada “given the proximity of the agricultural areas”.
Equivalency? What do you mean equivalency?
The Equivalency Agreement is a trade agreement between Canada and the United States that recognizes the commonalities the two share in the production of organic agriculture. That is although there are some small differences between what is required of a certified organic producer in Canada and the United States, the guiding principles of what makes food organic are the same. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) came together on June 17, 2009 at the All Things Organic Conference in Chicago, Illinois and signed this historic agreement which recognized that although they are not identical both regimes’ organic regulations operate around the same basic philosophy.
How will the US/Canada Equivalency Agreement work?
The CFIA and the USDA both have their own sets of standards in order to gain the distinction of being “certified organic”. In principle the attempt to protect the integrity of and allow for marketing of food products as “certified organic”. Under the Equivalency Agreement, the CFIA will recognize imported organic food produced according to the requirements for certification as organic by the USDA as organic in Canada. Likewise the USDA will recognize imported organic food produced according to the requirements for certification as organic by the CFIA as organic in the United States.
Why did we need the Equivalency Agreement at all?
Everything changed for organic exporters to Canada on June 30, 2009 when the new Organic Products Regulations (OPR) came into effect. Without an agreement USDA certified organic food exported to Canada would have been required to receive a second certification bringing them in compliance with the new OPR before being introduced to the Canadian market. Likewise, any certified organic food under the OPR guidelines exported to the United States would have needed to also meet National Organic Program (NOP) guidelines before being introduced to the American market. This double certification would have been an unnecessary burden for the producers and certifying bodies to carry. With all the extra time, paperwork, and expenses that would have been necessary to certify in both countries would have been a major deterrent to trade as well as a cause of price increases passed down to the consumer. In order for the organic industry to expand beyond domestic markets equivalency agreements are necessary to facilitate trade with as few barriers as possible while still protecting the integrity of organic food. This historic agreement between the USDA and CFIA sets a standard for further expansions into the large European and Asian markets.
This sounds too simple
That’s because it is. As with any trade agreement there were extensive negotiations which led to certain concessions made by both the USDA and the CFIA.
The USDA requires that all agricultural products derived from animals treated with antibiotics should not be marketed as organic in the United States. As an example, a dairy farmer in Canada who treats a cow with antibiotics when it is sick may no longer at any time in that cow’s life sell its milk in the United States as certified organic under the Equivalency Agreement.
The CFIA requires that agricultural products derived from animals must be produced according to livestock stocking rates set out in the General Principles and Management Standards for Organic Agriculture (CAN/CGSB-32.310-2006). Second, the CFIA required that products produced by hydroponic or aeroponic production methods shall not be sold or marketed as organic in Canada. Finally, the CFIA required that products produced with the use of sodium nitrate shall not be sold or marketed as organic in Canada.
As long as a product meets these demands with evidence to support it, it may be certified as organic in both countries under both the OPR and NOP.
How does this affect my labeling?
So now you’re organic in both Canada and the United States. The next issue is packaging and labeling. All of the same laws and regulations apply for labels which you may find on the CFIA and FDA websites.
CFIA Labels (Canada): http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/labeti/guide/toce.shtml
FDA Labels (United States): http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/FoodLabelingNutrition/FoodLabelingGuide/default.htm
These are general guidelines to follow that are not affected by the agreement. What is affected by the agreement is that now if you are producing in the United States and exporting to Canada and meet the requirements of the Equivalency Agreement, you now have the option of using either the Canada Organic label alone or both the USDA Certified Organic and Canada Organic label. For those producing in Canada and exporting to the United States you will have the option of either the USDA Certified Organic label alone or the Canada Organic label alongside the USDA label.
What is the “Stream of Commerce”?
The Stream of Commerce is a vehicle through which organic producers will be required to transition and meet the new requirements for organic certification in Canada. The Stream of Commerce extends for two years, expiring on June 30, 2011 and is designed to minimize the impact on trade during this two-year period. During this time those who do not meet the requirements for organic certification in Canada will be informed on their issues of non-compliance and be requested of a plan to come into compliance. After those two years the CFIA will implement more stringent enforcement activities.
For US imports to Canada under the Equivalency Agreement that areas that may need time to transition into compliance would be that agricultural products must meet the livestock stocking rates, no aeroponic or hydroponic production methods are to be used, and that no sodium nitrate can be used in the production of organic products.