U.S Japan Organic Equivalence Arrangement Livestock Resolved Differences in Standards and Conformity Assessment Systems


On July 14, 2020, the United States (U.S.) expanded its existing organic equivalence arrangement with Japan to include the livestock scope. The U.S. and Japan first established organic equivalence for plants and plant-based products years prior, in 2013. Organic equivalence is when one country recognizes another’s organic program as being equivalent. The U.S.-Japan equivalence allows U.S. and Japan organic products certified to the USDA or Japan organic standards to be labeled and sold as organic in both countries, as long as the products meet the terms of the arrangement.

This document summarizes the differences that the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) identified between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries’ (MAFF’s) organic standards and conformity assessment systems, specifically with regards to livestock. AMS identified these differences through a document review of Japan’s organic livestock program. The differences were further refined or resolved during on-site audits that the U.S. and Japan conducted to observe each other’s organic livestock programs. To establish equivalence between the U.S. and Japan organic programs, the two countries resolved any differences through the adoption of critical variances (exclusions) or through the exchange of information that clarified program requirements and demonstrated equivalence.

Critical Variances

The differences below could not be resolved through changes to the Japan or U.S. organic programs, policy clarifications, or on-site observation of Japan and U.S. organic program implementation. These differences were resolved by excluding them from the equivalence arrangement. This means that the impacted products are not treated as equivalent and must meet the importing country’s requirements.

  • Livestock health care (antibiotics) – Organic livestock products or any livestock products used as ingredients (e.g., eggs, milk, meat) in any products to be sold in the United States must be derived from animals not treated with antibiotics.
  • Products out of scope – For organic products exported to Japan, the equivalence covers only USDA organic products that fall under the scope of the Japan organic regulations.

Resolved Through Clarification of U.S. or Japan Requirements

These differences were initially identified during document reviews of the U.S. and Taiwan organic programs. During equivalence discussions and on-site audits, both countries provided clarification about their requirements in each area and ultimately determined they were equivalent.

  • Definitions – JAS definition of “poultry” did not include turkeys, while NOP definition of “livestock” includes all avian species. Japan has now expanded the JAS standards to include turkeys.
  • Origin of Livestock – Minor differences between programs for gestation length and determining organic status of offspring. Japan and the U.S. confirmed that both countries’ standards set finite production windows that are similar and deemed them equivalent.
  • Origin of Livestock – JAS allows some exceptions to origin-of-livestock requirements for new organic operations. In these cases, conversion periods are required and align with Codex guidelines. Given the small size of Japan’s livestock sector, the U.S. determined that this would not impact trade. This topic will be reviewed regularly as Japan’s livestock sector evolves.
  • Livestock Feed – The JAS standards include an exception to the organic feed requirement in cases of organic feed shortages. The U.S. confirmed that Japan currently has an adequate supply of organic feed and the likelihood of allowing nonorganic feed is low given the size of the industry and Japan’s access to imported organic feed under equivalence arrangements. Japan will notify the U.S. if any shortage occurs.
  • Livestock Living Conditions (confinement) – Japan clarified that JAS requires grazing for all animals. Poultry confinement may occur when the government issues emergency measures due to avian influenza outbreaks. References to confinement during lactation refers to confining dairy animals during the milking process only. The U.S. confirmed that Japan allows livestock confinement for life stages similar to NOP.
  • Pasture Practice Standards – Japan and the U.S. reviewed the differences in their pasture requirements and agreed that, considering differences in scale between the Japan and U.S. livestock systems, the requirements of both programs encompass the core concepts of pasture-based organic production and are equivalent.

For more information on the U.S.-Japan organic equivalence arrangement, visit our webpage: International Trade Policies: Japan