Organic food was once considered a special category for healthy nuts and hippies, but today it is a standard choice for millions of Americans. For years, following the 1990 Organic Food Production Act, which established national organic standards, consumers had to look for organic products in food cooperatives and farmers’ markets. Today, more than half of the organic sales are in chain stores, club stores, and supermarkets. Walmart, Costa Rica, Craigger, Target and Safeway are the five organic retailers.
Studies show that 82% of Americans buy some organic food, and availability has improved. So why is total organic sales only 6% of all foods sold in the US? And since organic farming has many benefits, can its role increase, including saving soil and water and reducing the use of artificial chemicals?
One issue is price. On average, organic food is 20% more than normal food. Even hardcore organic buyers like me sometimes miss out on the cost.
Some budget-conscious consumers may limit their purchases to organic foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Organic produce contains very few pesticide residues.
It’s worth it, but let’s dig deeper. Increasing the market share of organic food requires large quantities and more variety of organic products. This requires more organic farmers than in the United States.
There are about 2 million farms in the United States. Of these, only 16,585 are organic – less than 1%. They occupy 5.5 million acres, which is a small part of the total U.S. agricultural land. Approximately two-thirds of the U.S. farmland is intended to grow animal feed and biofuel warehouses, such as corn and soybeans, rather than human food.
In my view, converting more farmland into organic food should be a national goal. Organic farmers produce healthy food, promote soil health and protect watersheds. Shiny animals, such as cows, must graze for at least 120 days each year to reduce their methane emissions.
The list of climate and environmental benefits associated with organic is long. Organic farming uses 45% less energy than normal produce, mainly because it does not use nitrogen fertilizers. And because organic farmers practice crop rotation, use cover crops and fertilizers, and eliminate fossil-based inputs, it emits less than 40% of greenhouse gases.
The vast majority of organic farms are small or medium, both in terms of total sales and agriculture. Organic farmers are on average smaller than normal farmers.
Small start-up makes sense for novice farmers, and allows organic price premium to live on small land. But first, they have to go through a difficult three-year transition period to clean up the land.
In this case, they are not eligible to label products as organic, but they must stop using harmful chemicals and follow organic standards, including how to manage ecological processes. This usually results in a short-term decline in production. Many farmers fall by the wayside.
Transition is just one of many challenges for organic farmers. Great federal government support can help. In a recent report, the Arizona State University Sweet Center, led by me, identified the steps that can be taken in the current budgets and laws to ensure sustainable food prospects for the Binden administration.
The current USDA support for organic producers is small, with the agency spending billions of dollars annually on agricultural support. Two-thirds of the farm subsidy goes to 10% of the rich farmland.
Our report recommends a 6% USDA expenditure to support the organic sector. For example, By 2020, the agency will spend about $ 3.6 billion on research, education, and economic research to directly invest in organic farming in the region. The 6% share of that budget will be $ 218 million to develop natural pesticides instead of chemical pesticides.
The high cost of organic food includes the use of harmful pesticides and the costs associated with improving animal welfare. An increasing number of food systems scholars and experts are calling for the use of real cost accounting methods that they believe will fully reflect the cost and benefits of food.
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According to an analysis by the Rockefeller Foundation, US consumers spend $ 1.1 trillion a year on food, but the real value of that food is $ 3.2 trillion when it comes to factors such as water pollution and farm health. Looking through a real expense lens, I see organic as a good deal.
This article was published by The Conversation, a non-profit news outlet dedicated to sharing ideas with academic professionals. Written by: Kathleen Merregan, Arizona State University.
Kathleen Merrigan leads the Swiss Center for Sustainable Foods at Arizona State University, which is funded by the Organic Trade Association. She is the project coordinator of the United States Department of Agriculture on Unexpected Chemical Contamination of Organic Crops. Merigan is a member of the advisory committee for the Organic Agricultural Research Foundation. She is also a consultant to A2G Ventures and Venture Partner, two agate companies with some organic companies in their extensive portfolio. According to a U.S. Senate employee, Merrigan In 1990, she drafted an organic food law. She has served on the National Organic Standards Board as USAA Agricultural Marketing Service Manager and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.