Organic products’ trading is about an $80 billion worldwide market now, and is expanding rapidly.
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The U.S. is working to improve the quality and safety of organic products with its neighbors, notably Mexico. Both countries are preparing new import certificates that the USDA hopes will increase transparency and strengthen monitoring and enforcement controls for organic products traded between the two countries.
“We’ve been working with SENASICA [Mexico’s National Service for Animal and Plant Health, Food Safety and Quality] for the past couple of years for equivalency arrangements,” says Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the USDA’s National Organic Program Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).
The new import certificates agreed upon in October 2016 will go a step further to tighten the current general certification given each farm to a certification for each shipment from the farm. That takes into account seasonality and quantity, McEvoy says.
The AMS originally planned for the U.S. certificates to be effective Jan. 16 of this year, but has delayed the requirement until a future date to assure the paperwork and standards are consistent depending on the market in Mexico, McEvoy says. For its part, Mexico is expected to implement its own requirement for organic products coming from the U.S. in early 2017.
Currently, each country exports about $150 million worth of organic products to the other, according to McEvoy, but he says the number is quite a bit higher because many of the traded goods do not currently have codes so they are not counted in export and import numbers.
The USDA also estimated that the U.S. market alone had $43 billion in organic retail sales from more than 22,000 certified organic farms and businesses in the country in 2015.
“This is part of an overarching effort to improve the integrity of the U.S. organic food industry,” McEvoy says of the new certificates. The certification covers all agricultural products except aquaculture. Most enforcement will be through the certifiers that USDA accredits.
The U.S. and Canada currently have no certificates, but instead use an “attestation” statement to certify organic equivalency, he notes.
New NOP import certificates for Mexico verify that organic products shipped to the U.S. comply with the USDA organic regulations. Accredited certifying agents issue the certificates.
USDA’s website cites benefits of organic certification including receiving premium prices for products, accessing fast-growing markets, supporting local economies, accessing funding and technical assistance, and marketing products to consumers.
It also notes that to become a certified organic operation, the farm or business needs to adopt organic practices and select a USDA-accredited certifying agent, have its application reviewed by the certifying application, assure the certifying agent and inspection report show organic compliance, and finally, have the certifying agent issue the organic certificate.
The USDA held a webinar on January 10 to provide information on the certificate requirement; click here to view the slides from event.