27.03.2017 |

Transition needed to meet the soaring U.S. demand for organic food

US demand for organic food continues to soar (Photo: CC0)

Despite the rapid growth in recent years, U.S. production of organic food lags behind consumer demand, according to a new report released by Environmental Working Group. The U.S. environmental organization argues that even modest reforms to existing federal programs would help farmers transition away from the current form of agriculture with its reliance on pesticides and expand the acreage dedicated to organic agriculture. “Driven in large part by the multiple environmental and health benefits, Americans’ appetites for organic food is seemingly insatiable,” said Colin O'Neil, EWG’s agriculture policy director and author of the report. Between 1997 and 2015, sales in the organic sector have grown from $3.7 billion to more than $43 billion. This double-digit growth nearly every year makes the organic sector one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. Organic food sales now represent 5 percent of total U.S. food sales. However, US production does not meet the growing demand for organic food, the report shows. Major retailers such as Costco report that they can’t get enough organic food to meet customer demand.

According to analysis by the Organic Trade Association of data from the USDA’s Global Agricultural Trade System, in 2014 the U.S. imported roughly $1.2 billion worth of organic products. Organic exports were only $550 million. While some of the most heavily imported organic products tend to be foods grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates, such as coffee, bananas, olive oil and avocados, many American organic food companies have to turn to foreign suppliers for staples like soybeans, corn and rice – demand that could be met by domestic producers since these crops are ideally suited to U.S. climates. In 2015, the U.S. had to import more than $240 million of organic soybeans. “The current organic trade deficit presents Congress with a unique chance to expand market opportunities for U.S. producers, while also benefitting consumers, food companies and the environment,” said Colin O'Neil. “With modest reforms to current programs in the next farm bill, Congress can reduce barriers to farmers who want to transition organic methods at no additional cost.” One measure could be to embed organic transition into existing conservation programs. Congress and the administration could make better use of tax incentives, small business grants and existing loan programs to also facilitate transition. This would help increasing the number of organic farms and the amount of organic acreage. “The organic trade deficit presents organic businesses, farm groups and Congress with an opportunity to expand market opportunities for U.S. farmers, while at the same time addressing the public health and environmental footprint of American agriculture,” the report concludes. (ab)

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