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EU organic standards to be eroded by the US?

News Section Icon Published 25/05/2012


The EU has recognised the United States' "organic" label as equivalent to its own, meaning that people living in the EU will soon be able to buy US organic food. Great news in theory – not so great in practice! Here's why...

Label overload

It's widely recognised that shoppers are already confused by the wealth of food labels currently in circulation. Once this agreement officially comes into play, there will be another label to deal with.

Redefining "organic"

And for those who believe that an organic label on meat or dairy means that the animal was treated humanely, you may have to think again. In illustration1:

  • The minimum space allowance for an EU organic chicken is 43ft2. There is no minimum allowance in the US.
  • With pigs, as with many other species, there is nothing species-specific in the US standards; the rules are stated in such general terms that it is impossible to say what standards the pigs are kept to.
  • Electric prods are expressly prohibited in EU organic standards. This is not the case in the US, meaning that, in reality, we have little idea about the extent to which they are used.

Some farmers may also suffer

This agreement may damage the livelihoods of organic European farmers, as EU consumers buy more US "organic" food, which may well be cheaper. The US could increase its own wealth, but at what cost to the European economy?

So what's the industry response?

According to the Organic Trade Association: "Consumers will benefit as they have access to a more affordable range of organic products, increased quantities and product diversity, and a reliable supply chain".

A more affordable range of organic products, yes, except that they will not necessarily be "organic" according to EU standards. So while we agree that quantity will increase, the quality won't necessarily follow.

An opportunity missed

If only the EU had waited, and resisted a little, perhaps there could have been an agreement for EU and US organic standards to be equal (therefore asking the US to raise their standards in accordance with EU standards). As it stands, the US "organic" label is almost certainly misleading and belittles EU organic produce.

Huge thanks to Tim Psych for the image (cc)

Our sources

  1. USDA (2012), National Organic Program

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