Price and availability may not be excuses for not buying organic in the future as demand for healthier, more environmentally friendly food continues to increase.
Organic food has increased to include 3 to 5 percent of all food sales in Europe, according to an article in the May/June World Watch magazine.
“This bull market is buoyed by the concerns of people who are fed up with the way most food is grown: British mothers worried about mad cow disease; French families concerned they may be eating foods that contain genetically modified ingredients (GMOs); California parents frustrated by what their children are being served in school lunches; farmers everywhere tired of applying expensive and toxic agrochemicals to the fields around their homes,” and the list continues, the article reported.
The term “organic” refers to a holistic approach to farming that fosters diversity, maintains optimal plant and animal health, and recycles nutrients through complimentary biological interactions, while prohibiting the use of synthetic pesticides and artificial fertilizers.
As the organic food market booms, small-scale organic farmers are watching the form of agriculture they crafted around simple living and local economies take on a very different appearance, the article read. And the rift between small-scale organic farmers and mega-farms grows as these food giants are rushing to get in on the growing organic market.
Organic products yield about $25 billion globally, and the total area of farmland devoted to cultivating organic crops has grown to roughly the size of Cuba.
In the United States and Canada, organic land use has grown between 15 and 20 percent each year during the 1990s, and now totals roughly 550,000 and 1 million hectares, respectively, according to the article.
The question remains: can organic farming, which has traditionally operated on a small scale, expand to meet global demand without taking the same toll on the environment and rural communities that conventional agriculture does?
World Watch pointed out that “on the one hand, the interest of supermarkets and food manufacturers will continue to boost total organic area, reduce bottlenecks in the supply chain, and lower prices, which will mean new customers and a greater market share for organics.”
“On the other hand, demand is growing so quickly that supermarkets often choose to bypass local organic farms in favor of a few large-scale growers that can deliver quantities of a standardized product year-round,” the article read.
The high standards of organic farming are also at risk, as corporate food giants, enticed more by economic opportunity than matters of principle, enter the organic race.
“The term ‘organic’ connotes healthy eating not simply because the food is grown without spraying known carcinogens on the plants and soil, but also because it is associated with a style of living that emphasizes fresh, whole foods and home cooking as opposed to fast food,” the article read.
Sir Albert Howard wrote in his 1943 book, An Agricultural Testament, that he hoped organic farming might help people learn “to subordinate the profit motive to the sacred duty of handing over unimpaired to the next generation the heritage of a fertile soil.”
Such distinctions mean a lot to the growing number of consumers for whom organic is as much a philosophy of life as a physical characteristic of the foods they eat, John Ikerd of the University of Missouri, told World Watch.
In the end, consumers are the central players in this agricultural evolution. Science has multiplied and manipulated food for years, and now consumers are at a crossroad with the choice to carry on or to go back to where things began.
The proliferation of organic farming also points to the growing desire of people to know the “story” behind their food. Where was it grown? Who owned the land? Were chemicals used? Were livestock injected with hormones? What sort of labor was used on the farm? Did the farmer get a fair price?
These questions mark only the beginning of what need-to-know consumers will expect in the future. And they will further motivate the changing system of food production around the world.
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.