CHICAGO — (UPDATED COVERAGE, 11:30 a.m.) As long as shippers use U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic seals or the new Canada Organic Biologique labels, certified organic products, including fresh produce, will continue to move freely back and forth from the U.S. and Canada, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said June 17 in a keynote speech at the Organic Trade Association's All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show.
While the official signing of the pact between the two North American nations will not take place until the afternoon of June 17, Merrigan said the parties involved have finalized the agreement.
"This is the first step toward global harmonization of organic standards, and marks a historic moment for the organic community," Merrigan said.
In addition to allowing organic produce to remain readily available to consumers, the deal should help consumers feel more comfortable about purchasing organic, Organic Trade Association executive director Christine Bushway said in a news release.
"Consumers will benefit from equivalency, as they have access to a more affordable range of organic products, increased product diversity and a reliable supply chain," Bushway said in the release. "As a result, consumers will continue to have confidence in the (integrity of organic products) and (in the) government oversight of the products they buy."
The deal should also help growers, shippers and distributors of fresh produce keep trim their costs and eliminate some red tape, according to the release, as "under equivalency, producers certified to NOP regulations by a USDA accredited certifying agent do not have to double-certify to the Canadian organic standards ... to meet Canadian labeling requirements when exporting to the Canadian market," with the same going for U.S. exports.
In other early All Things Organic news the morning of June 17, the Produce Marketing Association's Kathy Means delivered a speech stressing the necessity for those in the fresh produce industry to satisfy case-level traceback protocols immediately.
More specifics on the Produce Traceability Initiative will come in October, Means said, but on June 17 in Chicago she emphasized all fresh produce companies need to make sure they are satisfying minimum traceability elements such as maintaining accurate records on case identification numbers (GTIN), lot and batch numbers and dates of packing, harvest, etc., and properly labeling products with such information to ensure the industry isn't decimated by another food safety scare like the false one in 2008 that hurt the tomato industry.