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Organic Goes Global

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The world of certified organic products just got a lot bigger.

In a ceremony being described as “historic” in food industry circles, the United States and the European Union signed an agreement that essentially equates EU organic certification with that of the U.S.

“Equivalence with the EU will be a historic game changer,” said Christine Bushway, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, using that favorite word.

This follows by just a few weeks the agreement the U.S. inked with Canada that brings them closer to full equivalency.

With the EU arrangement, products certified organic in either region as of June 1 will be able to “move freely” — a very cool way of describing the new import/export rules — between EU member countries and the U.S. Specifically, the EU will recognize the requirements and regulations cited in the USDA National Organic Program as being equivalent to those rules put forth by the EU Organic Program. And we'll do the same on our end.

Of course, this means there will be many more certified organic products available on both sides of the Atlantic. But there are other, less obvious benefits. 

For example, there are probably more than a few European manufacturers that are certified in their home countries but either don’t want to, or can’t afford to, shell out the funds to receive the U.S. organic seal. With that hurdle removed, the path is clear for them to start marketing their products stateside.

This should also serve as an incentive for those companies that might have been thinking about getting into organics, but decided to hold back for whatever reason. Now they see that the market potential is twice as promising. How can you resist?

The agreement also benefits the industry as a whole, since both programs are pledging to exchange information and data regarding issues like animal welfare and GMO contamination.

The opening of trade comes at an ideal time. The annual Organic Product Study from TABS Group found a big jump in the number of American consumers reporting that they purchased organic products: From 39.8% in January 2011 to 41.8% in January 2012. Total sales of organic products rose an estimated 15% to 20%, researchers concluded.

“This robust growth is due in part to consumers deciding to expand the portfolio of organic products they purchase,” they wrote, citing statistics that found an 11% percent increase in the number of product types purchased by a typical organic shopper.

Thanks to the agreement, retailers can look forward to more products — and more shoppers looking for them. The TABS study found that 62% of consumers make their organic purchases at “mainstream” retail stores, while 38% buy their organics at natural food or specialty stores.

This is the year we can say organic took a key step towards the ultimate goal: One World, One Standard.

[Photo credit: Jason Bachman]

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