(UPDATED COVERAGE, June 17, 3:39 p.m.) When the Canada Organic Product Regulation goes into effect at the end of June, U.S. producers won’t have to go to extra lengths to meet any differing requirements — a certified organic product in the U.S. is also certified in Canada.

The first-ever equivalency agreement between the U.S. and Canada on its organic standards is official, just weeks before Canada’s new regulations go into place.

Barbara Robinson, acting director of the National Organic Program, signed the agreement June 17 at the All Things Organic conference and trade show in Chicago June 17, just hours after USDA deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the agreement in her keynote address at the conference.

Organic agreement between Canada and U.S. signed
                                           Dan Galbraith

A historic organic standards equivalency agreement between the U.S. and Canada became official at about 3:45 p.m. central time on June 17 in Chicago, as Barbara Robinson (left) and Jaspinder Komal exchanged the paperwork they signed. Robinson is acting director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program and deputy administrator for the USDA's transportation and marketing program. Komal is director of the agrifood division for the policy and programs branch of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“This is the first step toward global harmonization of organic standards, and marks a historic movement for the organic community,” Merrigan said.

The agreement works both ways. Products certified by Canada’s organic standards will also be considered certified organic in the U.S. Both the new standards and the agreement go into effect at the end of June.

Officials from the two countries worked on the agreement for months, ever since Canada announced it would have its own organic standards. There are differences in the standards both countries adhere to, and officials are working with organic industry stakeholders in the U.S. and Canada to work around these differences.

The biggest difference applying to produce is the use of natural sodium nitrate, a soluable nitrogen source, said Matthew Holmes, managing director of the Organic Trade Association in Canada. Holmes is also one of four chairmen on the Technical Committee on Organic Agriculture, part of the Canadian General Standards Board, responsible for the standards in the country.

Sodium nitrate is allowed in the U.S. for restricted use, but is not on the list of acceptable soil treatments in the Canadian standards.

“That was identified as one of the main differences,” Holmes said June 17. “We don’t know yet the final details of the agreement, but my guess is that there will be some sort of carve-out relating to this substance.”

Whatever agreement is made, whether it be phasing out of use of the product by the U.S. or another solution, exporters in the U.S. have a two-year buffer if a phase-out is required.

“There’s a two-year stream of commerce policy,” Holmes said. “The U.S. had one as well when the National Organic Program started up. So National Organic Program products will be able to flow in, regardless, for two years.”

Holmes said organic hydroponic products are also prohibited in the Canadian standards.

Canada is the largest trading partner for the U.S., and more than 80% of organic products consumed in Canada are imported from the U.S., according to the USDA.

 â€œIt’s a world-first and it’s the beginning of the next stage of the organic movement,” Holmes said. “Who better than Canada and the U.S., the world’s biggest trading partners?”

Sections Editor Dan Galbraith contributed to this story.