According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Mexico is one of the largest and fastest growing markets for U.S. agricultural products. Enthusiasm about the benefits of consuming organic products has also lead to growth in this industry, creating new opportunities for U.S. organic exporters. To support and oversee this growth, the Mexican government has increased their involvement by developing and implementing federal organic standards. The Mexican Organic Products Law (LPO) was published in 2006, followed by the Regulations for Organic Products in 2013. Finally, to complete the regulatory framework for organic production, the Guidelines for Organic Production and General Rules for the Use of the National Seal were published in October of 2013. The Guidelines for Organic Production dictate that implementation, interpretation and monitoring of the standards are the responsibility of the Mexican Secretariat of Agriculture (SAGARPA) by means of the National Service of Health, Food Safety and Quality (SENASICA), a department within SAGARPA. Additionally, the LPO mandates the establishment of a National Council for Organic Production (CNPO) to assist and guide SAGARPA/SENASICA in this task.
SENASICA has approved 15 certification agencies to certify organic products under the LPO, and the agency is actively working to ensure consistency and correct implementation of the standards among certification agencies. In addition, SENASICA is negotiating organic equivalency arrangements with the United States, the European Union and Canada, although negotiations with the United States are farthest along. Once an equivalency arrangement is achieved, one certification to the USDA organic standards will be sufficient for organic producers in the U.S. who want to sell organic products in Mexico. Homero Blas, president of the Mexican Society of Organic Production (SOMEXPRO), explains how this will be a big improvement. “Even though standards may differ in different countries, certification systems tend to be very similar. With equivalency arrangements in place, producers can supply the world market without spending all of their time on redundant and time-consuming certification procedures.”
Although there has been consistent progress in the implementation of the LPO, and in negotiations for equivalency arrangements that will promote trade, there are still challenges faced by producers who want to get their products certified organic and access this premium market. Carrie-Anne Palmeri, Latin American Program Supervisor for Oregon Tilth, explains, “Wherever you might find yourself in the world, the process of organic certification can be an intimidating and daunting endeavor. The learning curve associated with understanding the organic regulations and the standardized operating procedures which must be established in the field to comply with these can be challenging at times. In Mexico, operators face similar challenges; however, the context is a bit different. As a country with a relatively new national organic regulation and associated national organic market, Mexico’s organic sector is still very much aimed toward the organic export industry. This means that in addition to meeting the demands of the national regulation, organic growers must also comply with international organic regulations, as the organic export sector still represents the lion’s share of organic sales in Mexico.”
Despite this, the number of certified organic producers continues to grow, and this growth is also reflected in the inputs industry. OMRI has seen consistent growth in the number of input suppliers in Mexico who apply to have their products OMRI Listed to the NOP regulations. In total there are close to 1,000 products amounting to 15% of OMRI Listed products that originate in Mexico. Guillermo Cadena is president of the Mexican Association of Producers, Formulators and Distributors of Organic, Biological and Ecological inputs (AMPFYDIOBE) and his company also has products that are OMRI Listed®. He estimates that the demand for compliant inputs has grown 17-20% in recent years. He attributes this growth not only to growth in Mexico’s organic industry, but also to the use of these products in conventional agriculture. Cadena explains the importance of this sector to the organic industry. “Inputs are essential. If we can make compliant inputs easy to identify and use, we can go a long way toward simplifying and increasing organic production.”
Currently, the 15 approved certification agencies in Mexico are reviewing inputs one by one, usually as a service for clients who want to use those inputs. There is no public list of compliant inputs for Mexico, and certification agencies are bearing the significant burden of input review. Many input companies fill this gap by having their products verified for compliance to the U.S. NOP organic standards, by material review organizations such as OMRI that maintain a public list of inputs. Although there are significant differences between the LPO standards and the USDA organic regulations in terms of input review, OMRI and equivalent listing programs give Mexico certifiers a good start to completing a review. Even better would be a program that reviews inputs specifically to the Mexican LPO standards, so that organic producers and certifiers could share an understanding of the available inputs. With the number of compliant inputs products growing alongside an expanding organic industry in Mexico, the need for centralized input review specifically for the LPO standards will most likely continue to increase over time.
Ana Negrete is the International Program Manager for the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).