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
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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