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U.S. Organic Sales Continue to Grow Despite Economy

(Beyond Pesticides, May 18, 2009) While the overall economy has been losing ground, sales of food and non-food organic products reflect very strong growth during 2008. U.S. sales of organic products reached $24.6 billion by the end of 2008, growing an impressive 17.1 percent over 2007 sales, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA) 2009 Organic Industry Survey. As a result, organic food sales now account for approximately 3.5 percent of all food product sales in the United States.

The survey, conducted by Lieberman Research Group on behalf of OTA, measured the growth of U.S. sales of organic foods and beverages as well as non-food categories such as organic fibers, personal care products and pet foods during 2008. Results show organic food sales grew in 2008 by 15.8 percent to reach $22.9 billion, while organic non-food sales grew by an astounding 39.4 percent to reach $1.648 billion.

“This marks another milestone for the organic food market,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director. “Organic products represent value to consumers, who have shown continued resilience in seeking out these products.”

With tough economic times, consumers have used various strategies in continuing to buy organic products. Because most venues now offer organic products, consumers have the opportunity to shop around. Increased use of coupons, the proliferation of private label brands, and value-positioned products offered by major organic brands all have contributed to increased sales.

Organic agriculture embodies an ecological approach to farming that does not rely on or permit toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, sewage sludge, or irradiation. Instead of using these harmful products and practices, organic agriculture utilizes techniques such as cover cropping, crop rotation, and composting to produce healthy soil, prevent pest and disease problems, and grow healthy food and fiber. Organic farming also protects the farmworkers and their families from chemicals that have been shown to cause a myriad of chronic health effects, such as cancer, endocrine disruption and a series of degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease. Research shows that organic farming eliminates a significant source of toxic chemical contamination in the environment from groundwater pollution and runoff to drift.

Organic agriculture can increase world food security as it offers affordable, immediately usable, and universally accessible ways to improve yields and access to nutritional food in developing countries. A 2008 report cited in the paper from the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) notes that not only can organic agriculture feed the world but it may be the only way we can solve the growing problem of hunger in developing countries. UNEP states that its extensive study “challenges the popular myth that organic agriculture cannot increase agricultural productivity.” In an analysis of 114 farming projects in 24 African countries, UNEP reports that organic or near-organic practices result in a yield increase of more than 100 percent.

Organic foods have been shown to reduce dietary pesticide exposure. A study published in 2008 finds that children who eat a conventional diet of food produced with chemical-intensive practices carry residues of organophosphate pesticides that are reduced or eliminated when they switch to an organic diet. Another study finds that converting the nation’s eight million acres of produce farms to organic would reduce pesticide dietary risks significantly.

There are numerous health benefits to eating organic, besides a reduction in pesticide exposure. According to research from the University of California, a ten-year study comparing organic tomatoes with standard produce finds that they have almost double the quantity of disease-fighting antioxidants called flavonoids. A study out of the University of Texas finds organically grown fruits and vegetables have higher levels of antioxidants as well as vitamins and minerals than their conventionally grown counterparts. A comprehensive review of 97 published studies comparing the nutritional quality of organic and conventional foods shows that organic plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, grains) contain higher levels of eight of 11 nutrients studied, including significantly greater concentrations of the health-promoting polyphenols and antioxidants. The team of scientists from the University of Florida and Washington State University concludes that organically grown plant-based foods are 25 percent more nutrient dense, on average, and hence deliver more essential nutrients per serving or calorie consumed. A study by Newcastle University, published in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture, finds that organic farmers who let their cows graze as nature intended are producing better quality milk.

In addition, the adoption of organic methods, particularly no-till organic, is an opportunity for farming both to mitigate agriculture’s contributions to climate change and to cope with the effects climate change has had and will have on agriculture. Good organic practices can both reduce fossil fuel use and provide carbon sequestration in the soil through increased soil organic carbon. Higher soil organic carbon levels then increase fertility and the soil’s ability to endure extreme weather years.

Last week, Beyond Pesticides reported that the Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced $50 million for a new initiative to meet the Obama Administration’s promise to encourage more organic agriculture production.

Beyond Pesticides advocates choosing local, fairly traded organic goods whenever possible. See Buying Organic Products (on a budget) and Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Agriculture pages for more information.


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