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Despite Slow Economy Organic Food Market Grows

(Beyond Pesticides, August 3, 2011) Despite the continued sluggish economic recovery, U.S. retail sales of natural and organic foods and beverages rose to nearly $39 billion in 2010, according to a new report available on companiesandmarkets.com. This is an increase of 9% over the previous year’s sales of $35 billion, far outpacing growth in conventional groceries, which crept ahead less than 2%. Organic sales are projected to more than double by 2015, to exceed $78 billion. [Confused about Natural vs Organic? They are not the same. Learn more about why organic is the right choice. Read Beyond Pesticides’ factsheet “Making Sure Green Consumer Claims Are Truthful”]

The report, “Natural and Organic Foods and Beverages in the U.S., 3rd Edition,” examines sales and growth potential, identifying key issues and trends that will affect the marketplace through 2015, and analyses consumer attitudes and behaviors toward natural/organic foods and beverages. Organic sales also had a great performance in 2008 with U.S. sales reaching $24.6 billion by the end of 2008, growing an impressive 17.1 percent over 2007 sales. Organic food sales accounted for approximately 3.5 percent of all food product sales in 2008. A recent poll by Thomson Reuters and National Public Radio (NPR) shows that a majority of Americans prefer to buy organic food when given the choice. This poll also demonstrates the potential for growth in the organic food sector if organically produced foods were to become more easily accessible to consumers. According to the poll, the most common roadblock for consumers who wish to buy organic food but are unable to is cost, with 54% stating that their preference for non-organic food stems from the fact that organic food is too expensive. This trend may soon change as researchers predict that with growing demand, prices will drop.

The demand for organic agriculture continues to grow due to the benefits to human health and the environment. In addition to the many organic food stores, most large grocery stores across the country carry a growing number of organic produce resulting in high demand for organic products from food retailers. As such, organic agriculture is the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture, despite premium prices. Organic agriculture embodies an ecological approach to farming that does not rely on or permit synthetic 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. Genetically modified crops are also not permitted in organic food. For more information on organic agriculture, visit the organic food program page.

Growers, however, have initially been slow to switch to organic agriculture because of the substantial investment required to adopt a new methods of production, and gain organic certification. In order to be certified organic, foods must be produced without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or sewage sludge. A farm must go through a three year transition phase, before it can be certified organic. The high demand and relatively low supply has allowed producers to charge retailers higher prices.

The costs of certification and inspections are often cited by small farms as one roadblock to participating in organic certification. However, a new program helps to alleviate some of those costs, giving more farmers the option to become organic. In September 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will make available $6.37 million in federal funds for organic certification cost-share reimbursements for the fiscal year 2010. Recipients must receive initial certification or continuation of certification from a USDA-accredited certifying agent and may be reimbursed for up to 75 percent of their organic certification costs, not to exceed $750 per year.

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.

As organic agriculture continues to grow and evolve, researchers are continuing to find new evidence of the benefits of choosing and growing organic foods, and the benefits of organic agriculture extend to everyone. On conventional farms, dangerous pesticide use is a danger to farmworkers, wildlife including endangered animals, as well as the water supply, and people especially children http://www.beyondpesticides.org/schools/index.htm living in the area. For more information about why organic is the right choice see our Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience guide.

Additional information on the cost-share programs, as well as a list of participating states, is available on the National Organic Program home page at www.ams.usda.gov/NOPCostSharing.

Source: Media Post News


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