Organic food - Natural products increasingly in demand

September 23, 1997

Organic food

Natural products increasingly in demand

In 1990, the Organic Foods Production Act was passed by Congress. The Act establishes precise federal standards for the word ``organic.'' Once implemented, the term ``organic'' may not be used unless it meets the standards of this act.

This act was supported by virtually every environmental, conservation, consumer and humane organization as well as by many farm organizations. The organic industry also supported this act because the term "natural'' had become meaningless.

Right now, ``certified organic'' products are available. This means an independent certification organization (there are about 40 in the United States) visits each farm and traces the history of the materials applied to the farmland for the past three years.


Additionally, the water supply is tested to assure that organic practices have been followed. Processing facilities also are inspected for adherence to organic practices.

The cost

Probably the No. 1 reason people don't choose organic foods is cost. Organic foods cost more because of certification costs and start-up costs, according to Mark Retzloff, co-founder of the largest organic dairy in the United States, Horizon Organic Dairy and president and legislative council chair for Organic Trade Alliance, the trade association of the organic food industry and community.

Farms and companies have costs as they change production methods. For instance, the yield from a conventional farm in transition to becoming an organic farm may be less.)

In addition, he says, due to economies of scale, smaller operations may have to charge more for their products. Among the other reasons cited by Retzloff:

* Increased labor costs. (If herbicides are not used, the farmer may have to be out on his tractor pulling weeds.)

* A smaller bag of tools. (For instance, if you can't treat livestock with antibiotics, you have to find some other way to treat the animal's health problems.)

* Increased raw material costs. (An example would be that if you are feeding an organic cow, the organic feed you are feeding the cow costs more.)

* The organic products need to be separated from other foods that are not organic so additional storage charges could be incurred.

* Foods have to be moved greater distances. There are fewer people producing organic foods so they need to move greater distances to get to the marketplace.

* There is a lack of subsidizing.

Proponents of a sustainable organic lifestyle maintain that even though organic foods cost more, there are hidden costs caused by chemical farming, including pesticide regulation and monitoring.

- Barbara Albright, for AP Special Features

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