Organic wave: at the crest? - The Packer

Organic wave: at the crest?

04/10/2014 10:37:00 AM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstIs organic’s popularity at its crest or still rising?

 The obvious answer is “still rising,” of course. But Washington Post coverage of organic, “Is it better for your health? A look at milk, meat, eggs, produce and fish” answers its own question with ambivalence.

From the article:

Bottom line: While there may be no significant nutritional difference between organic and conventional produce, organic does have lower levels of pesticide residue. However, there isn’t universal agreement on the risk those residues pose.

 The Organic Trade Association responded to The Washington Post story with a release of its own:

 Here is a taste of the OTA release:

Unfortunately, the produce section of this article lumps too many fruit and vegetable categories together to give a true overview of the nutritional differences between organic and conventional. To truly examine nutritional quality variations between farming systems, specific products need to be compared. Broad generalizations like those made by the Stanford study are impossible. Recent studies that have made more specific comparisons among organic and conventional have found some pretty convincing evidence for nutritional superiority in some organic categories. For example, a study published in 2013 found that organic tomatoes were 50 percent higher in vitamin C content than conventional tomatoes, and had 139 percent higher total phenolic content.

This article also strikes out on the importance of avoiding pesticides. The article does cite research showing that eating organic will decrease exposure to pesticides, but does not give proper weight to the health benefits of reduced pesticide exposure.

In other organic news, the appropriation of the Wild Oats brand for Wal-Mart packaged organic goods apparently has no impact on fresh produce. Find the Wal-Mart news release here

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service has released an overview of organic statistics, which can be found here.

The report talks about the size of the maket and the importance of fruits and vegetables:

USDA does not have official statistics on U.S. organic retail sales, but information is available from industry sources. U.S. sales of organic products were an estimated $28.4 billion in 2012—over 4 percent of total food sales—and will reach an estimated $35 billion in 2014, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.

Fresh fruits and vegetables have been the top selling category of organically grown food since the organic food industry started retailing products over 3 decades ago, and they are still outselling other food categories, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Produce accounted for 43 percent of U.S. organic food sales in 2012, followed by dairy (15 percent), packaged/prepared foods (11 percent), beverages (11 percent), bread/grains (9 percent), snack foods (5 percent), meat/fish/poultry (3 percent), and condiments (3 percent).

 Most organic sales (93 percent) take place through conventional and natural food supermarkets and chains, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). OTA estimates the remaining 7 percent of U.S. organic food sales occur through farmers’ markets, foodservice, and marketing channels other than retail stores. One of the most striking differences between conventional and organic food marketing is the use of direct markets—Cornell University estimates that only about 1.6 percent of U.S. fresh produce sales are through direct sales. The number of farmers’ markets in the United States has grown steadily from 1,755 markets in 1994, when USDA began to track them, to over 8,144 in 2013. Participating farmers are responding to heightened demand for locally grown organic product. A USDA survey of market managers (see Organic Produce, Price Premiums, and Eco-Labeling in U.S. Farmers’ Markets, April 2004) found that demand for organic products was strong or moderate in most of the farmers’ markets surveyed around the country, and that managers felt more organic farmers were needed to meet consumer demand in many States.

 

Also from the overview, a word about price premiums:

ERS analyzed organic prices for 18 fruits and 19 vegetables using 2005 data on produce purchases (see Emerging Issues in the U.S. Organic Industry, June 2009), and found that the organic premium as a share of the corresponding conventional price was less than 30 percent for over two-thirds of the items. The premium for only one item—blueberries—exceeded 100 percent. In contrast, in 2006, organic price premiums for a half-gallon container of milk ranged from 60 percent for private-label organic milk above branded conventional milk to 109 percent for branded organic milk above private-label conventional milk.

 

Finally, statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show a 245% increase in certified organic farms and operations since 2002.

Counting 18,513 certified organic operations in the U.S. and a total of 25,000 certified operations in 120 countries, the USDA said it helped 763 producers become certified organic in 2013, up 4.2% from 2012.

The USDA’s database of certified organic operations is found online.



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