Fact Sheet: New Organic Standards to Hit U.S. Shelves on October 21, 2002

October 9, 2002

FACT SHEET : NEW ORGANIC STANDARD TO HIT U.S. SHELVES ON OCTOBER 21

On October 21st, American shoppers will see a new food label in supermarkets across the nation. This label signifies the new national standard for organic foods set by the Department of Agriculture. Unlike current nutritional and ingredients labels, it will allow shoppers to know how their food is grown and processed. This standard could mark the beginning of a new era in American agriculture in which organic foods migrate from the fringe to the mainstream.

Some quick facts on organics:

WHAT IS "ORGANIC"?
The term "organic" describes a system of farming that prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and instead relies on ecological interactions to raise yields, reduce pest pressures, and build soil. Organic farmers use diverse planting patterns, frequent crop rotations, and attraction of beneficial insects, for instance to control pests. Organic standards prohibit the use of growth hormones and the routine feeding of antibiotics for livestock production, while requiring that farm animals have access to the outdoors. Organic standards also ban the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer, genetically modified plants and animals, food irradiation, and a variety of additives and preservatives.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ORGANIC FARMING?
Recent studies have shown that organic farms harbor many times more insect, bird, soil organisms, wild plants, and other biological diversity than their non-organic neighbors, because of the absence of agrochemicals, because of the greater variety of crops grown, and because of the greater health of the soil. Organic produce carries substantially lower pesticide residues than conventional produce. And studies have also indicated that organic farms can be as productive as conventional farms, and are often more profitable.

HOW BIG IS THE ORGANIC MARKET?
Retail sales of organic produce have grown by 20 percent or more annually since 1990, with the market now estimated at $10 billion each year. Organic products are available in nearly 20,000 natural food stores, and are sold in three-quarters of all conventional grocery stores. (In 2000, for the first time, more organic food was sold in conventional supermarkets than in any other venue.)

According to the most recent Department of Agriculture estimates, certified organic cropland in the United States doubled between 1992 and 1997, to 1.3 million acres. (Updates can be found at www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/Organic.) Sales of organic dairy products, the fastest growing segment of the organic market, grew by over 500 percent between 1994 and 1999.

Despite this growth, organic farming continues to receive a disproportionately small fraction of government and university support. Studies from the Organic Farming Research Foundation found that less than 0.1 percent of all Department of Agriculture research grants were relevant for organic farmers, while a mere 0.02 percent of research acreage within the land grant university system was certified organic.

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