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Organic Food Under Attack From Seemingly All Angles

Organic food has been taking some hits in the press lately, and Earth Eats' Cory Barker hopes the beating comes to end soon.

A pile of organic vegetables.

Photo: aymlis (Flickr)

Demand for organic food has fallen faster than expected, according to new statistics about shoppers' habits.

organic foods

Photo: aymlis (Flickr)

These days, it’s tough to be organic food.

Reports are mixed on the sales figures of organics, with some saying the sales have slowed after years of staggering up-ticks, while other reports claiming that though they have slowed, sales are still updespite the economic downturn. In March, reports pegged organic sales to be on the decline:

Demand for organic food has fallen faster than expected, according to new statistics about shoppers’ habits. Consumers who were once prepared to pay a premium for organic produce are turning to cheaper alternatives, cutting sales by a fifth in the past year.

But by this summer, things have reportedly changed. Here’s an excerpt from Time’s recent analysis of organic sales:

OK, not as strong. But the market is still growing — maybe 6% this year compared to 20% in recent years…People want to take better care of themselves — not despite the recession but because of it. The firm expected sales of relatively costly edibles like pesticide-free beef, oils and veggies to crumble as more folks started minding their wallets. But it’s not happening. They seem to want to do something good for their bodies and the planet even more in these tough times, perhaps to feel better about themselves and the world.

Then, of course, we had the release of the study in late July that said organic food had no more nutritional value than non-organic food:

What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.

And if you’ve been following the aftermath of that study, things have gotten pretty heated. The study gave credence to critics of organic food, who find it no more than a scam. But many more people came out in defense of organic food, with other researchers calling the study a waste and others pointing to the other benefits of organics – namely that it helps the environment and is still better for you, even if not in terms of calories.

Finally, this week it was announced that there would be an independent audit of the USDA organic label program, which has been under fire for a while now. A July article in the Washington Post sort of blew the door open on the situation, and things were not pretty:

Three years ago, U.S. Department of Agriculture employees determined that synthetic additives in organic baby formula violated federal standards and should be banned from a product carrying the federal organic label. Today the same additives, purported to boost brainpower and vision, can be found in 90 percent of organic baby formula.

And that’s not all.

Relaxation of the federal standards, and an explosion of consumer demand, have helped push the organics market into a $23 billion-a-year business, the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Half of the country’s adults say they buy organic food often or sometimes, according to a survey last year by the Harvard School of Public Health.

But the USDA program’s shortcomings mean that consumers, who at times must pay twice as much for organic products, are not always getting what they expect: foods without pesticides and other chemicals, produced in a way that is gentle to the environment.

Hopefully the audit will clean up the crooked practices, but certainly some damage has been done.

And though these events aren’t all tied together directly, it just seems like there has been more bad news than good news on the organic food front. Of course, that is to be expect when something gets more attention in all circles, but here’s hoping that things turn around for organic food a little. There’s a reason it became a major movement in the first place.

Cory Barker

Cory Barker is a summer intern for Earth Eats and senior IU student from Hartford City, Indiana. He is double majoring in journalism and communication and culture with a minor in business.

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