OTA Looks To Equivalency Arrangements To Aid U.S. Organic Growth

Meagan McGinnes

USDA_350The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is looking to equivalency trade arrangements as a way to increase more organic options on shelves — and it’s just a question of standards

The association noted that eight in 10 families are buying at least one organic product during most food shopping experiences, according to a presentation by Monique Marez, the OTA’s director of international trade, during the Natural Products Expo West event last week in Anaheim, Calif. Of those organic products, snacks — followed by condiments — have seen the largest growth since 2015. Currently, there are 25,000 certified organic farms in the U.S., a growth of 12 percent from the last year, and there are over 2,000 farms in transition. This translates into about 6.5 million acres of certified organic land in the U.S.

But Marez noted that the country could be seeing even larger growth with the roll out of a new set of trade arrangements. Marez told attendees that though 50 percent of global market is made up in the U.S., it’s Denmark that is actually eating the most organic goods and Switzerland that’s spending the most money on these products. Farmers, brands and the OTA see that as untapped potential within the industry.

Equivalency arrangements, meaning trade arrangements between countries that recognize each other’s certifications as equal merit, are at the center of this movement, but the process is not one without its paperwork. “It’s a rigorous process,” Marez explained. “Different countries have varying standards, requirements and definitions of organic.”

Right now, Marez said there are 40 organic equivalent arrangements in place around the world with 22 active players, and that the OTA is seeing “more and more engagement across space.” The European Union recently signed an arrangement with Chile, New Zealand signed a deal with China, and, according to Marez, now the U.S. is in the process of organizing an arrangement with Mexico, a first for the country.

Once the arrangement is in place, Marez said OTA and NOP continually monitor imported and exported products to make sure the agreed upon standards are being met. She added that this monitoring, as well as consumer education regarding organic as a production practice outside of the local food movement, is expected to be some of the biggest hurdles for the industry in coming years.

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