Organics going international

Blair Madole and Steve Weishampel | Boulder Weekly

Colorado’s organic farms may soon get a big boost from some faraway customers: members of the European Union.


Beginning June 1, the United States and the EU will be able to trade organic products while avoiding the red tape that was in place in the past. It is the result of an equivalency agreement reached at BioFach 2012, the world’s largest trade show for organic foods, held annually in Germany.

This year’s BioFach was attended by several Colorado organic companies, including Roth Farms of Longmont and representatives of Aurora Organic Dairy and Goddess Garden, both of Boulder.

In the past, both the EU and the U.S. had to meet each other’s organic standards in order to trade, which led to increased expenditures and hassle. However, EU and U.S. organic products will now be accepted as comparable, which clears the way for international trade, says Tim Larsen, the senior international marketing specialist at the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Stephanie Dybsky, the director of trade and investment for Europe and other regions at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, says that equivalent standards are the basic purpose of the agreement.

“The big takeaway that was explained to me after the agreement was that formerly the EU did not recognize the U.S. organic certification.

The USDA national organic standards weren’t formally recognized by the EU,” she says. “Now that’s changed and they’ll consider if it’s officially considered organic in the U.S. then the EU will also recognize it.”

Dybsky says Colorado farms have already started benefiting from the agreement.

“Of our six companies represented there, $115,000 were made in sales on the floor show,” Dybsky says, “which is really great.” Dybsky says those same six companies, including Roth Farms, anticipate making another $750,000 in sales over the coming year.

Colorado may be one of the prime benefactors of the trade agreement because of its large supply of organic millet and wheat, Larsen says. Colorado produces about 60 percent of the U.S. supply of millet, and there is a low amount of organic millet in the EU supply chain. There may also be a larger market in the EU for organic wheat with lower protein content, Larsen says, and Dybsky adds organic lettuce producers to the beneficiaries in Colorado.

“Because of our unique landscape, with the mountainous region in the west and the Eastern Plains and the amount of sunshine Colorado gets,” Dybsky says, “our farmers are poised to really benefit from the agreement and have a strong niche.”

The EU will also benefit from the agreement because of its large supply of organic finished products, such as olive oil, pasta and chocolate. These items will likely not be a threat to Colorado businesses or organic produce, Larsen says.

There are two exceptions to the equivalency agreement, one in the EU and one in the U.S. The EU hoped to introduce organic cheese and other organic dairy products to the U.S. market. However, EU standards for organic dairy cows are not comparably stringent and will therefore require additional certification from the U.S. in order to be allowed. In return, the EU will require additional certification for organic apples from the U.S. because of disease prevention treatments used on them.

Despite past arguments between the EU and the U.S. over organic standards, the equivalency agreement will allow both sides to export organic products under similar labels. Though it is yet unclear whether the organic items will be labeled with their country of origin, they will likely be labeled as organic certified under the USDA in the U.S. or with the organic logo in the EU, Larsen says.