USDA Organic or EU Food Safety Commission Pesticide Maximum Residue Limit?
“In simplified terms, the NOP (USDA National Organic Program) regulations require:
For crop farms –
• 3 years with no application of prohibited materials (no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides,
or GMOs) prior to harvest of the first certified organic crop …”
I don’t really know about the differences between the requirements in the U.S. and EU. It would be interesting for me to find out what others think. Should I stock up on tea in Europe? :)
I am curious, however, if anyone has more details about how exactly USDA would exercise control over tea grown in China. I see that there are some trade partnerships, for instance between US and EU, or between US and Japan, but what is the level of control when it comes to imports from other parts of the world (China in particular)? Are tea samples actually analyzed? By whom?
Gianna, I don’t think it would a control thing, so much as a ‘get this certification for added value thing’ – a little like kosher certifications in the US — something a producer can apply for and be granted after inspection.
Here’s the deal. USDA lays out its standards, but has no control over foreign production. So, foreign agencies may then apply to sort of certify-by-proxy. This is pretty much just a procedural thing since USDA has almost no way to monitor that these agencies are doing what they said they would do in their application.
Because of this application/certification process, it actually makes it relatively expensive for foreign growers to get certified, since the grower ultimately bears the expense. This means that small producers, even those that meet/exceed the standards, are often squeezed out of the organic market by larger growers who can afford the certification.
This puts direct pressure on smaller operations to either seek fraudulent certification (for which they may or may not technically qualify), or to abandon organic processes since they can’t reap the financial benefits of doing so anyway.
On top of this, the growing interest in organic tea is putting enormous stress on the market (which already has regulation challenges) – whereby it is increasingly difficult to compete without the “organic” label. In other words, ironically, by demanding more organic tea, we are actually creating strong pressure on tea growers, makers, and sellers to push more non-organic tea labeled as “organic”.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t demand these sorts of protections. It’s just that the unintended short-term consequence is that, in many ways, it is having the opposite effect of its intent. And, unfortunately, in the short term, almost everyone in the chain of commerce benefits by less direct regulation of the certification process and more corruption. So, very few people have an incentive not to turn a blind eye to it.
The way the EU standards are regulated in foreign countries is largely the same. Certifiers are accredited in much the same way. There is, however, a peer review element to the accreditation process which I do not fully understand, but which seems less corruptible than the USDA method.
The key advantage of the EU standards is that, in my opinion, they are more meaningfully written. That is, they more carefully spell out what is allowed by the standard in ways that I feel are more impactful on human health. Enforcement is a little more slippery, though, because this is delegated to individual member nations.
With that said, the EU and USDA standard are VERY similar. The unfortunate irony is that, if you buy a product that is labeled to meet an EU standard, and you buy that product outside of the EU, it does not appear that there is any agency with the authority to challenge that claim. You are left to trust solely in the supplier which, frankly, is pretty much true across the board, since all foreign certification is so difficult to regulate.
Thank you for your detailed and informed response! The USDA certification process seems to inspire little confidence.
Well, it’ll get there. The certification itself is meaningful. It’s just that, as with any regulation, it is only as good as its enforcement. However, testing does occur. And when harmful residue is detected, there are repercussions. I think the industry is feeling distinct pressure to self-police on this matter. It will just take some time.
Here are three examples that specifically discuss “Certified Organic" teas: