The organic food industry is a booming business. Certified organic products typically have a higher price point and may even be smaller in size or different in taste. But what exactly does organic mean? Regulations vary from country to country. But according to the USDA, “organic” by itself isn’t necessarily a health claim.
It just means the food was produced using organic methods. These methods include a list of federal standards addressing things like soil fertility, pest and weed control, and animal grazing practices. But most people aren’t actually aware of what it takes for a product to receive the USDA Organic seal. In 2014, brand consultancy BFG surveyed 300 shoppers. 70% purchased organic food and only 20% could define organic.
Despite a lack of knowledge, demand for organic food is at a record high among consumers. And it’s only going up. U.S. organic sales surged in 2020, jumping by 12.
4% to $61.9 billion. With consumers being more health conscious than ever, they’re willing to pay more for what they perceive as better, even if they’re not quite sure that it is.
In 2018, organic food and beverage items cost an average 24 cents more than conventional food. Some shoppers are doubtful of U.
S. organic food claims. Several investigations over the years uncovering organic label fraud have exacerbated consumer suspicion. The USDA’s National Organic program, or NOP, has been stepping up on investigations and enforcement, suspending or revoking 370 operations in the U.S.
in 2020 alone, but some say it’s not enough. On the fraud issue, they have not been the ones that have been in the forefront. They’re supposed to be preventing fraud by the enforcement of the rules a,nd time and time again, the horse is long out of the barn before the National Organic Program is even aware that there’s a problem. Despite efforts to reduce fraud amid rising demand, any consumers still question: are organic food safer? Are the more nutritious?
And are they worth the price? Organic farming was first introduced as a concept called humus farming in the early 20th century, in order to address soil erosion and depletion. These practices included composting, rotating crops and applying animal manure. During World War II, food shortages accelerated agricultural advances by improving mechanization, fertilization and pesticides.
Synthetic fertilizers were affordably produced, and machineries were quickly replacing manual labor.
The term “organic” was coined in 1940 by Lord Northbourne in his book “Look to the Land,” where he talked about taking a natural and ecological approach to farming. He drew inspiration from Sir Albert Howard, whose decades of research led him to the concept that using waste material was vital for soil health. The Industrial Revolution helped the farmer far more with a better plow and with a tractor and an engine instead of a horse drawn. And then we move to how do we package and salvage and save the stuff for longer post World War TII. And oh, look at these chemicals, they work to decimate a jungle, what could a small amount of that do on a field, you know, that kind of thing.
So, and we saw how great these chemicals were. But then we realized somewhere along the line probably in the 60s, I’m assuming and into the 70s that hey, maybe we’re doing detriment to ourselves.
By the 1970s, environmental concerns increased, and consumers began to demand more sustainable produce. In response, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990 to develop a national standard for organic food and fiber production. The final rules were written and implemented in Fall 2002.
This regulation defines organic agriculture as an “ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity.” Organic isn’t a health claim, it’s simply a labeling term that indicates the food has been grown following the federal guidelines the OFPA.
According to the USDA, organic farming entails the use of manures crop rotations, biological control ,and emphasis on biodiversity, the use of rotational grazing, a reduction and elimination of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and a focus on renewable resources. As for livestock and poultry, the standards require that animals have access to the outdoors year round, fed 100% organic feed and not administered antibiotics or hormones. Consumers looking to shop organic may look for the USDA seal of approval.
So let’s talk about the different kinds of labeling categories. You can have a 100% organic product. So for example, that organic apple that you take off the shelf and eat that’s 100% organic. You can also have products that are 95% or more organic composition. And a product needs to have more than 95% in order to carry that USDA seal.
And so you might be talking about, for example, a granola bar that has different kinds of ingredients in it. If more than 95% of those ingredients are organic, it can use the organic seal. There’s also a made with organic category. So for example macaroni and cheese, it may be that the cheese or the macaroni or some other component of a product is organic, but the rest of the product is not.
Multi-ingredient products with less than 70% certified organic content cannot use the organic seal or use the word “organic” on the front of the food package.
However, they can list certified organic ingredients in the ingredient list and the percentage of organic ingredients. Consumer demand for organic products is rising quickly, showing double digit growth over the past decade in the U.S. As of February 2021, organic products in the U.S.
can be found in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and nearly 75% of conventional grocery stores. And organic sales account for 4% of total US food sales. The booming organic market in the U.S. can be attributed to a few things, mainly the declining price gap between organic and conventional products.
In 2018, organic food and beverage items cost an average of 24 cents more than conventional food. That was down from 27 cents in 2014, a nearly 2% drop. Organic produce seems to be getting cheaper for a number of reasons. For one, arising dependency on fossil resources is causing the price of conventional foods to increase while government subsidies keep the prices artificially low.
And more private label retailers are getting in organic foods, creating a downward pressure in the industry to reduce prices.
There are tons of reasons why organic food is more expensive in the first place. But it all boils down to the fact that it costs more to produce. It takes more money and labor to adhere to the USDA strict standards regarding production, handling, labeling and storing. Not to mention demand beats out supply. Farmers are just not that interested in the organic standard.
They don’t they see higher land costs, higher labor costs, and so not too many make the make the switch and that restricts the supply of organic and that’s why the price is so high. Over the past decade, shoppers have become increasingly more mindful of their health and COVID-19 has accelerated those trends. According to a 2020 survey.,54% of all consumers cared more about the helpfulness of their food and beverage choices in 2020 than they did in 2010. Some health conscious consumers gravitate toward organic over conventional products due to concerns about highly processed foods, artificial ingredients and the effects of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics.
According to a study by Pew Research, 76% of adults surveyed bought organic foods for their health value, followed by environmental concerns at 33% and convenience at 22%. But there is conflicting data about whether or not organic foods are healthier or safer. Take for instance pesticide residue. The consumption of pesticide contaminated food is a major source of human pesticide exposure. And according to a 2017 review in Environmental Health, our current levels of exposure to pesticides can lead to adverse effects on children’s cognitive development.
In adults ,exposure to pesticides may also lead to the development of Parkinson’s disease, fertility issues and cognitive decline. It also mentioned that antibiotics used in the conventional animal production is a key driver of antibiotic resistance in society.
The average conventional apple in the United States today contains about four different pesticide residues. And science science is is not at the stage where we can say with certainty what daily exposures to four or five pesticides from food is doing to our children. But there is a broad consensus that it’s probably not doing anything helpful.
However, there is some data that says otherwise. Organic does not mean that the produce is grown without any pesticides. A few naturally occurring pesticides are approved by the USDA. Research in 2005, at the University of California suggests that the negative public perception of pesticides is overblown, and that the pesticide residue in both organic and conventional crops are too low to have any adverse effects on health. Maybe conventional food has a very low exposure for pesticide residue, and it’s not a problem.
But maybe organic food has an exposure level that’s even lower.
So it’s not a problem either. I conclude that both are safe. And you should be making your your food choice on on the basis of something more substantial. While there’s a lot of discrepancy about whether organic is safer and healthier long term, many agree that organic food isn’t better in terms of nutritional value, the Environmental Health review concluded that there was no significant difference in nutrition between organic and conventional crops.
An orange that’s grown conventionally and an orange that’s grown organically. I think they’re gonna have the same vitamins in them, I really do. I’ve been an orange grower all my life. And we haven’t changed much from when when dad did it. Organic food is not healthier or safer for you.
Whether it’s organically grown or conventionally grown, it’s going to have the same nutrient content. Now there are situations where you may find an organic orange, say may have 10 million more milligrams of say vitamin C, and it’s theoretically. It means absolutely nothing to you as far as your health goes, because of the conventional orange let’s say has 95 milligrams of vitamin C in it.
And let’s say organically grown or you may have 110 milligrams, 105 milligrams of vitamin C. Well your body doesn’t need either one of them, it only needs about 35 milligrams.
You don’t it need anywhere. It’s like driving down the road and you have a full tank of gas and you see a gas station and you say, oh I’m going to pull over and get more gas. Well it’s no point because your gas tank’s full. Some studies conclude that there simply isn’t enough strong evidence. Many people ask me is organic food more nutritious than conventional food?
Obviously, that’s a complex question. And it varies between say animal products like meat, milk and eggs, and fruits and vegetables, or grains. But in general, for all plant based foods, organic food has between 20-25% higher levels of what’s called antioxidants. Now on the animal side of agriculture, which is you know, roughly half the calories that the typical American consumes in a day.
The biggest differences with organic farming are in the fatty acid profile in meat and eggs, and milk and dairy products.
And these differences are significant. At the height of the pandemic organic grains like rice and pasta are flying off the shelves, mainly due to their long shelf life. Harvesting and selling organic grains is big business. It demands a higher price because it costs more to produce To earn the National Organic seal, the plants cannot have been genetically modified, and they must be grown without the help of unauthorized fertilizers, weed killers or pesticides. But who’s verifying this?
There are about 75 third-party agencies certified by the USDA to inspect over 16,000 organic farms in the U.S. These private inspectors perform annual audits that include questioning, reviewing documents and examining records. But rarely does it mean actually testing the soil or produce certifying agents are only required to test 5% of their total operations per year. This process largely relies on the honor system in an ethical seller can pass off cheaper commercial round green for the more expensive organic kind and make a huge profit.
And some are doing just that. In 2017, a Washington Post investigation revealed that non-organic soy and corn labeled as organic was flooding the U.S. About 36 million pounds of conventional soybeans imported from Ukraine and Turkey were originally priced like regular soy beans, but by the time they reached California, they had been labeled as organic, boosting their value by $4 million. 61-year-old Randy Constant was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2019 for the largest organic fraud case in U.
S. history. However, there is a broad consensus that imported produce is more likely to be fraudulent than domestic grown crops.
The organic fraud in grains started cause of the high demand for especially eggs and meat and the fact that domestic production could not keep up with the demand. They started looking overseas and the first place that they are went that had open holes was the Ukrainian and the Black Sea region has continually been a problematic area because of lacks of oversight.
The rapid growth of the organic food market, higher potential for fraud and increased funding has allowed the NOP to significantly increase its enforcement staff over the past year. In February 2020, the NOP launched an online complaint portal to make it easier for consumers to file complaints. There were 676 operations in 45 countries in 2020, that were suspended or revoked, which is lower than the 722 suspended or revoked operations in 2019.
John Bobbe, former executive director of OFARM, says they could be doing more. If the USDA or NOP comes across a fraudulent shipment, they have no authority to stop it.
They were given a clean slate with money to draft new rules with stronger enforcement, they were given the authority. So what did they do? They spent the money on the low fruit, the easy stuff; upgrading their organic integrity database. We have caught bad guys, both domestically in the United States and overseas. So as an example, recently, we worked closely with Customs and Border Protection, which is the federal agency that protects imports to block incoming shipment of, of cooking oil and oil that was shipped by a suspended operation.
And so that’s an example of how we have blocked fraud coming into the United States. And there have been some very public stories of organic fraud where people in the United States have paid fines or gone to jail by defrauding the American public. Again, our job is to make sure organic is a choice that can be trusted by consumers across the country. Despite a lack of significant data, experts say the organic food industry is here to stay. The overall consensus from farmers and experts is to put less focus on the USDA Organic seal, and instead, eat more fruits and veggies from your The problem isn’t the food in the marketplace.
It’s the fact local farmer. that not enough Americans purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
As I’ve said, we only consume 1/10 of fresh fruits and vegetables that we should be consuming for for dietary health. Do I think everybody should purchase organic over conventional? I think everybody should eat fruits and vegetables from their backyard, meaning the farm that’s closest to you support your local farmers.
Eat as much as you can locally. And then enjoy what you want globally..