The Northwest Horticultural Council’s Foreign Trade Committee has established a subcommittee on international grade standards to better monitor, respond to, and communicate changes in international grade standards to growers and packers.

Grade standards are quality metrics governing such things as color, size, and defects for agricultural products. Grade standards can include label or packaging requirements. Standards can vary by country and by standard-setting body.

Grade standards may be changed periodically, and knowing the various standards of each country and staying abreast of any proposed changes are crucial to ensuring they do not pose a barrier to U.S. exports, said Mark Powers, executive vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, based in Yakima, Washington.

“It will be helpful to have a small group of people who actually do this work every day, as part of their job, who could be a quick reference to us on these issues,” Powers said. “Questions regarding international grade standards arise infrequently, but when they come up, they are important because they can become barriers to trade.”

Anyone exporting fruit to the United States should be meeting, at a minimum, U.S. grade standards.

Growers in Washington State export under either Washington State Department of Agriculture or U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service standards.

However, countries may also set their own standards or adopt those of the two primary international grade standard-setting bodies: The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe or UNECE, which has grade standards in place for apples, pears, and cherries, or the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

The Codex Alimentarius or “Food Code” was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization in 1963.

Codex is a standard-setting body that was created with the intention of harmonizing international food standards, including grade standards.

Codex currently has apple grade standards that were adopted in July 2010 over protest from several nations, including India, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, and Colombia.

The U.S. apple industry spent the better part of a decade participating in the development of the Codex apple grade standards to ensure there were no conflicts that would become a barrier to trade or interfere with U.S. commercial interests, Powers said.

However, few countries, if any, have adopted Codex apple standards so far, he said, or utilize UNECE standards.

Instead, like the U.S. and Canada and the European Union, they tend to have their own standards, particularly if they are countries that produce apple, pear, or cherry crops, or are currently silent on the matter.

“Any country can say, if they don’t have grade standards, they’re going to set one, and we don’t want what is in their standards to negatively impact trade,” Powers said. “The focus of this group is to try to avoid any problems down the line, rather than to try to create new grade standards.”

Anyone interested in participating on this committee should contact the Northwest Horticultural Council at (509) 453-3193. •

-by Shannon Dininny