Organic Products Have Another Great Year in the US

The US is the world’s biggest market for organic products and the industry had another great year here in 2013.

Sales rose 11.5% to $35.1 billion – the fastest growth since the recession began in 2008, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). They expect about the same growth levels for the next two years.

The industry passed the $30 billion mark in 2011.

Organic Seal USDA

At $32.3 billion, organic food sales account for about 92% of the total. Although other categories, such as flowers, fiber, household products and pet food, are still a small portion of organic sales at $2.8 billion, that’s an 8-fold increase since 2002. 

Even though organic food has long been the leading edge of food sales in the US – growing almost 10% a year since 2010 compared to 3% for total food sales – it’s still a tiny part of the US market. 4.3% of the $760 billion food sold in the US last year was organic. 

If we look at fruits and vegetables, organic has a 10% share of the total with $11.6 billion in sales, up 15%.

All kinds of organic products are growing: 

  • condiments, growing 17% to  $830 million
  • snack foods, up 15% to $1.7 billion
  • bread and grains, up 12% to $3.8 billion
  • meat, poultry and fish, up 11% to $675 million
  • packaged and prepared food, up 10% to $4.8 billion
  • dairy, up 8% to $4.9 billion
  • beverages, up 5% to $4 billion.

OTA flags these challenges to the industry:

  • US farmland isn’t being converted to organic at a fast enough pace to meet demand. Supplies of organic feed and grain are tight and costly, a problem for organic dairy and meat producers.  3000 farms are in transition right now.
  • Lingering confusion about the difference between products labeled "natural" versus "organic" and what that means in terms of GMOs. 

"Consumer education is critical to grow the organic industry," says Laura Batcha, executive director of OTA.

Conflict at the USDA

The good news is the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted to end the use of antibiotics sprayed on organic apple and pear crops. Tetracycline was banned last year and now streptomycin is banned.

The bad news is the NOSB is making it more difficult to phase out synthetic and non-organic materials from organic food. Until now, if a non-organic material was approved – such as carrageenan – it would automatically "sunset" after five years unless a two-thirds majority voted to keep it on the list.

Now, that’s been reversed: unless a two-thirds majority votes to remove it, non-organic material will NOT come up for review – it will stay on the allowable list indefinitely. Given that the 15-member has industry reps from Big Food that’s bought organic companies, they are pushing to dilute organic food, not make standards more stringent. 

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