2014 was another record year for the US organic industry, as it grew 11.3% with sales of $39.1 billion, according to Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) 2015 Organic Industry Survey.
Despite tight supplies of organic ingredients (there aren’t enough organic farms to meet demand), organic food sales reached $35.9 billion (up 11%) and non-food sales reached $3.2 billion (up almost 14%) – the biggest annual rise in 6 years.
In 1997, when tracking began, sales were $3.4 billion, accounting for only 1% of total US food sales. Since then, organic food has consistently surpassed the average 3% growth rate for total US food supplies, and as of 2014, provides almost 5% of all food.
But organic provides 12% of all produce, doubling its share during the past decade. Fruits and vegetables comprise 36% of organic food sales, up 12% in 2014 to $13 billion. Organic dairy sales are up almost 11% to $5.46 billion.
"The majority of American households in all regions of the country now make organic a part of their supermarket and retail purchases – from 68% to almost 80% of households in southern states, to nearly 90% on the West Coast and in New England," says OTA.
US Certified Operations Rise 5%
There are 19,474 certified organic operations in the US, up 5% in 2014, according to the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Globally, 27,814 operations meet USDA organic standards, rising 250% since 2002, when tracking began.
In great news, almost half of all organic purchases were made within 100 miles of the farms where they were grown.
10 states account for 78% of organic sales, in this order: California (41% at $2.2 billion); Washington State ($515 million); Pennsylvania ($313 million); Oregon ($237 million); Wisconsin ($201 million); Texas ($199 million); New York ($164 million); Colorado ($147 million); Michigan ($125 million) and Iowa ($103 million), according to the USDA’s census.
But are the biggest operations really organic? Watchdog group Cornucopia Institute thinks not. They took high resolution aerial photos of some of the largest certified organic livestock operations and found not a single chicken, cow or pig outside at 14 of them. Satellite imagery found the same.
The USDA insists the massive operations – which produce milk, meat and eggs – are "in good standing" with their organic certifiers and that a photo shows just a "single moment in time."
"The vast majority of these industrial-scale facilities, some managing 10,000-20,000 head of cattle, and upwards of 1 million laying hens, had 100% of their animals confined in giant buildings or feedlots," says Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia.
"It must simply be an incredible and amazing coincidence that no birds – zero – were outdoors, and only a fraction of the tens of thousands of cows on the industrial-scale dairies were observed on grass. Most were confined to giant feedlots," says Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Research Director.
Kevin Engelbert, who manages the first certified organic dairy farm in the US (in NY State), says: "To anyone with any knowledge of agriculture, the aerial photos prove beyond any shadow of a doubt the poultry operations do not provide outdoor access to their birds and the dairy operations are not legitimately grazing their cows. For the USDA to not even investigate these facilities means one of three things: 1) the personnel who made that decision are inept, 2) they are too close and friendly with corporate lobbyists and multi-million-dollar certifiers that are involved in the process, or 3) the most likely scenario, corrupt politicians are preventing them from enforcing the law."
Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, downgraded the rating of USDA’s organic seal, telling USDA’s National Organic Standards Board, "Organic is slipping."
The Cornucopia Institute is calling for an internal investigation of USDA’s oversight of the organic industry by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.
The nonprofit has been filing these kinds of legal complaints since 2004, when the largest dairy supplying the Horizon label was decertified, and sanctions were placed against Aurora Dairy, which produces private-label organic milk for Walmart, Costco, Target and supermarket chains). It usually takes years for the USDA to respond, much less do anything about these violations.
Global Market – 2013
Meanwhile, the global organic market is valued $72 billion, led by the US with $35.1 billion in sales as of 2013, according to BioFach. Germany is next, followed by France and China.
There are 2 million producers worldwide, with the most located in India, Uganda and Mexico.
43.1 million hectares are farmed organic, up by almost 6 million hectares in 2013.
While the US is the largest single market for organic food (and beverages), developing countries are the biggest producers of the food we eat.
New Food Labels Coming
The USDA is developing certification and labeling that indicates products are GMO-free.
But it’s voluntary and companies will have to pay for it, so don’t expect to see it on many foods.
"This is yet another gift to the biotech industry. Instead of requiring the manufacturers of GMO foods to label their products, the USDA wants to penalize producers of non-GMO foods by making them pay for a label to prove their products are GMO-free. If we follow the biotech industry’s talking point that the cost of GMO labels would be passed on to consumers, are we now going to force consumers to pay more to avoid GMO food products-products whose safety has been called into question by hundreds of scientists and doctors? Instead of the other way around?" asks Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association.
"We already have a good, third party independently verified non-GMO certification process in the USA, in place for over a decade. It’s called ‘USDA Organic’ and it prohibits the use of GMOs. Furthermore, for foods in transition to USDA Organic, or foods that may have been inadvertently contaminated by GMOs, we have a lab verified and verifiable labels such as ‘Non-GMO Project," he says.
In fact, the program mirrors legislation passed by the House and now moving forward in the Senate, Rep. Mike Pompeo’s (R-KS) "Dark Act." It would preempt states’ rights to pass mandatory GMO labeling laws, making labels voluntary.
Another label, "Certified Naturally Grown" (CNG) is for small family farms that can’t afford organic certification. Farms can’t use GMOs or synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides, and standards for supporting biodiversity are also similar to organic certification.
Getting CNG certified costs less, takes less time, and documentation can be filled out online.