As of July 1, 2009, certified organic products can move freely between the U.S. and Canada.
Under organic equivalency, producers certified to National Organic Program regulations by a USDA accredited certifying agent do not have to double-certify to the Canadian organic standards in order to meet Canadian labeling requirements when exporting to the Canadian market. Similarly, Canadian producers certified to Canadian organic standards by a CFIA accredited certifying body will be deemed equivalent to the NOP to meet the labeling requirements of the U.S. market when selling to the U.S.
Background and Clarifications
Background and Clarifications
Why did we need the Equivalency Agreement at all?
Everything changed for organic exporters to Canada on June 30, 2009 when the new Canada Organic Regime (COR) came into effect. Without an agreement, USDA certified organic food exported to Canada would have been required to receive a second certification to bring it into compliance with the mandatory Canadian standards and regulations. Likewise, any certified organic food under the Canadian guidelines exported to the U.S. would have continued to also have to meet the National Organic Program (NOP) guidelines before being sold in the U.S. market. This double certification would have been an unnecessary burden for producers and manufacturers, and would have introduced serious impediments to trade between the two countries. In order for the organic industry to expand beyond domestic markets, organic equivalency agreements are a tool that can facilitate trade with as few barriers as possible, while still protecting the integrity of organic food and honoring the publicly developed standards of each domestic market. This historic agreement between the USDA and CFIA offers a new model for further expansion of North American organic products into the significant European and Asian markets, and the continued growth of the global organic movement.
How will the Canada-U.S.Equivalency Agreement work?
The CFIA and the USDA both have their own sets of standards and regulations, which define organic production and claims in the marketplace. Under the Equivalency Agreement, the CFIA will recognize imported organic food, livestock and crops produced according to U.S. organic standards by USDA-accredited certifying bodies under the NOP. Likewise, the USDA will recognize imported organic products produced according to Canadian organic standards by CFIA-accredited certifying bodies under the COR. This “free trade” in organic products applies to ingredients as well as final products. Products that come under this Equivalency Agreement have voluntary access to either or both logos (as shown above). Because some differences in standards were deemed significant to domestic policy goals, consumer needs or production standards, the Equivalency Agreement also contains a few additional requirements that must be met before a product is deemed “equivalent” by the importing country.
What are these “additional requirements” under the Equivalency Agreement?
During their negotiations on organic equivalency and in consultation with their domestic stakeholders, the USDA and CFIA determined that certain technical differences between the two standards needed to be maintained by the importing country. Therefore, to be deemed “equivalent” under this trade agreement, organic products traded between the U.S. and Canada must meet the following additional requirements.
Products entering the U.S. under COR certification:
“Agricultural products derived from animals treated with antibiotics shall not be marketed as organic in the U.S.”
This means that dairy products, or products containing dairy ingredients, which came from animals treated with antibiotics are not considered organic in the U.S.
Products entering Canada under NOP certification:
“Agricultural products produced with the use of sodium nitrate shall not be sold or marketed as organic in Canada.”
This means that products grown using sodium nitrate are not considered organic in Canada.
“Agricultural products produced by hydroponic or aeroponic production methods shall not be sold or marketed as organic in Canada.”
This means that products meeting the Canadian standard’s definition of hydroponic or aeroponic production are not considered organic in Canada.
“ Agricultural products derived from animals must be produced according to livestock stocking rates as set out in CAN/CGSB-32.310-2006 (amended October 2008)”
This means that U.S. organic livestock and livestock products must meet the specific “density” rates identified in the Canadian standards; these rates identify acceptable maximum thresholds by species, as well as by indoor and outdoor locations.
As long as a product meets these requirements it may be certified as organic in both countries under the agreement. Certifying bodies are responsible for assessing their clients against these additional requirements if the certified products are intended for U.S. - Canada trade under this agreement.
How does this affect labeling?
Organic products deemed equivalent under the agreement can use either or both organic seals interchangeably, available from certifiers. It should be noted that products sold within a given market must meet domestic labeling requirements (such as language requirements, unique nutritional labeling, and different product grades), including those that come in under organic regulations. Note that Canada and the U.S. have slightly different approaches to organic labeling, such as: Canada does not permit a “100% Organic” claim; the U.S. “Made with” claim for products containing 70-95% organic ingredients is treated as a percentage claim in Canada (products must state “XX% organic ingredients”). For full labeling guidelines, please follow the requirements set out in the following official guides and resources:
OTA Members can direct questions about this agreement to:
Director, International Trade
Senior International Trade Advisor
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