As an increasing number of companies see financial opportunity in the organic food industry, consumers must hold their feet to the fire when it comes to maintaining the standard and spirit of organics, says the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), a business services cooperative representing 106 food co-ops nationwide.
Savvy shoppers are increasingly looking for healthful, ethical choices when it comes to buying food. In 2006, the organic food industry continued to grow at an incredible pace, and has grown between 15 and 20 percent every year since 1998.
Attracted by the growth and premium price potential, mass market retailers like Wal-mart and big name manufacturers like Campbell's are jumping on the organic bandwagon. The result is an even greater push for organic products. That growth has both positive and negative implications for the organic food industry, according to Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for NCGA.
“The good news is that more consumers are being exposed to organics and sustainable food choices,” said Shrader. “The bad news is the implications that growth has for the industrialization of organics. This not only has an environmental impact –– as we begin transporting organics across the globe –– it could have a devastating effect on the small family organic farmer, who will struggle to keep up with discount-store prices.
“Giant growers are already applying pressure to weaken the organic standards so they can more easily meet the requirements set for organic certification. Support for maintaining, and even strengthening, these standards will need to come from a committed base of organic advocates, such as NCGA’s co-op members consumer members and shoppers.”
NCGA suggests a variety of ways for consumers to make their voices heard regarding the industrialization of organics, such as contacting their congressperson or writing letters to companies that are attempting to weaken the standards.
“It’s worth the effort to keep a watchful eye on companies offering organic food,” said Shrader. “We will continue to stand with consumers and farmers in pressing the USDA for the highest organic standards as well as enforcement of those standards. By doing so, we can ensure that the organic label continues to be meaningful and true not only to the letter of the law, but also to the spirit.”
Natural food cooperatives and their customers always have believed that organic food is best for people and the environment. Organic foods meet all of the government safety standards that other foods must meet, plus the requirements necessary for organic certification.
Foods that are grown organically have been shown to be more healthful –– higher in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and produced without pesticides,GMOs and other synthetic hormones and antibiotics that have been linked to health problems. Animals on organic farms are typically treated more humanely.
While conventional farming practices cost taxpayers billions of dollars in environmental damage and federal subsidies, organic growers protect soil sustainability, respect the water quality, and contribute to biodiversity. Organic farming protects the health and welfare of farm workers as well as consumers, and it provides the world with the safest, most healthful food available.
In addition, those who buy organic products grown or produced locally eliminate the need for unnecessary middlemen, greatly reducing transportation costs and directly supporting farmers and their communities.