Friday, May 15, 2015

In the Islands and across the globe, organic food is burgeoning

Organic is on a roll.

Hawai`i shoppers looking for organic foods are no longer limited to neighborhood health stores and Whole Foods, but can now find big organic sections in many Safeways, Walmarts and other big stories.

(Image: U.S. organic food sales by category. Source: USDA)

In the middle of a global battle over how we grow food, about genetic engineering vs conventional breeding, about whether organic pesticides are more dangerous or safer than ones that don’t carry the organic label…

In the middle of all that, organic products are moving.

A recent story suggested that Whole Foods markets are losing some of their cachet—but not because people aren’t buying organic. It’s because everyone else is selling organic. It’s no longer a niche. 

The Center for Food Safety cheered when Kroger, Safeway and a bunch of other stores opted not to sell genetically engineered salmon, calling it “part of a growing trend of food companies distancing themselves from GMO foods.”

The 2012 Census of Agriculture found organic food sales jumped 83 percent in the 5 years from 2007.

The market research firm Research and Markets reported that “an overwhelming majority of consumers in the US give more preference to health and hygiene than cost, which is expected to further boost organic food consumption over the next five years.”

It said organic is a $45 billion industry in the U.S. alone. The Organic Trade Association puts the 2015 number at $39.1 billion.

That’s on par with the total combined global sales of Monsanto (2013 $14.8B), Syngenta (2014 U.S. $15.2B), Dow Agrosciences (2014 global $7.3B) and DuPont Pioneer (2012 $6.3B). 

All that said, and while organic is a growing market, it’s still a pretty small part of the food system. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that in 2012 it was just 4 percent of total food sales. And little of it was represented in the processed food category. More than half of all organic sales are fruits, vegetables and dairy.

And while the argument over genetic engineering versus organic threatens to suck all the air out of the room, there’s a suggestion of a new category of food emerging—in between them.

The USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) is developing a new label,  GMO-free. It will represent foods that are not genetically modified, but aren’t organic either, said The Associated Press.

Said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: ““Recently, a leading global company asked AMS to help verify that the corn and soybeans it uses in its products are not genetically engineered so that the company could label the products as such. AMS worked with the company to develop testing and verification processes to verify the non-GE claim.”

Presumably that covers the folks who choose traditionally bred crops, but also use conventional agricultural chemicals as opposed to the chemicals approved for organic use. (If you’re surprised that organic farmers are authorized to use pesticides, including synthetic pesticides, see our earlier post on that topic.)

© Jan TenBruggencate 2015

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