Organic Food Facts

Between 50 and 60 percent of all consumers have tried organic food.

    About 30 percent of all consumers buy organic food regularly and about 10 percent buy as much organic food as they can, making up the core of the market. About 70 percent of consumers view price as a barrier.

Organic food is not limited to the upper middle class or wealthy consumers.

    Market researchers find that organic food purchases are not determined by income, because most organic shoppers buy very discretely. As prices decline and availability increases, so do organic food purchases.

Organic food sales have grown about 20 percent a year since 1990.

    Organic food sales have hit about $11 billion in the United States and $25 billion globally. The largest markets are in the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Japan. Still, organic food amounts to only 2 percent of U.S. food sales — 1 percent including eating out.

Seven in ten Americans say they are at least "somewhat concerned" about the health risk posed by chemicals in the food supply.

    A 2004 survey also found that a third of all women viewed pesticides, hormones and antibiotics in food production as a high risk, while only 24 percent of men did. Women, though, make the majority of household purchasing decisions.

In 1970, there were 340 farmers' markets in the United States. By 2004, there were 3,706.

    Five to eight thousand visitors come each weekend to San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market; the farmers' market in Madison, Wisconsin, boasts over 150 local farms. New York City has 47 farmers markets. Organic farmers comprise a third of all vendors at farmers' markets, though they represent less than 1 percent of all farmers.

Organic food doesn't only come from small farms

    Earthbound Farm, which started on a 2-1/2-acre plot in Carmel, California, is now the third-largest organic brand and the biggest organic produce company, with more than $360 million in sales. The biggest organic brand is Horizon Organic, followed by soy milk company Silk, both of which are owned by Dean Foods, the largest U.S. dairy company.

Organic food is not entirely "natural."

    Organic food producers have long used a number of chemical synthetics deemed essential to growing and producing organic food. These include sulfur and copper, relatively benign fungicides, and pheromones (scents) that disrupt insect mating cycles, even plastic as a ground cover to prevent weed growth. In food processing, the synthetics include pectin, for making jelly, vitamins and baking powder and carbon dioxide for grain storage. These synthetics substances can only be used if specifically reviewed and deemed benign to the environment and health.

Organic farmers can use a limited number of botanical insecticides but most avoid them.

    Organic farmers can use a limited number of natural insecticides to protect their crops, like neem tree oil, which attacks insect larva; pyrethrins, a toxin derived from chrysanthemums; and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a microorganism that kills insects. But they can only use these substances when other measures like crop rotations or habitat for beneficial insect predators don't work. A survey found that only 9 percent of all organic farmers regularly applied botanical insecticides.

Organic farmers are restricted in manure use.

    Although organic farmers are often criticized for using raw manure in their fields, they actually face the strictest regulations on manure use in the United States. An organic farmer can only spread raw manure no less than 120 days before harvest for a crop that touches the soil, and up to 90 days for one that has no soil contact. Most organic farmers avoid raw manure in favor of compost, which must be produced under a regulated regime to kill potential pathogens. Conventional farmers face no such restrictions on manure or compost use.

Organic milk may come from cows that were once given antibiotics

    Once a cow gets to an organic farm, it cannot be injected with antibiotics, but organic rules permit organic farms to buy conventional calves that were given antibiotics as long as they don't produce milk for one year. The National Organic Standards Boards, a citizens advisory panel, voted to end this practice and to require all organic farms to buy or raise organic calves, but so far regulations have not been adopted by the USDA.

Organic cows may live on large feedlots

    Organic cows are required to have "access to pasture" but since this is not defined, some big farms rely on feedlots where cows eat organic grain, not fresh grass. A recent attempt by the NOSB to require a specific amount of pasture for organic cows in being considered by the USDA.


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