Sales of organic products were up 17% in 2008, reaching $25.6 billion despite the recession that began in the last quarter of the year, the Organic Trade Association's annual Industry Survey reveals.
The data covers not only organic food, but organic fibers, personal care products and pet foods.
Organic food sales were up 15.8% to $22.9 billion; organic food now accounts for 3.5% of all food sold in the U.S. Non-food categories grew 39.4% to $1.6 billion.
The association attributes the growth in the organic food sector, despite the recession, to two things: One, people who are committed to buying organic produce don't let money pressure stop them, because they are committed to environmental protection and health; and two, the proliferation of organic foods available at traditional grocery stores has increased retail competition and driven down prices.
The Obama administration is also poised to help the organic food industry grow further. The most extensive survey of organic farming is planned for this year, as part of the annual agricultural census, and the USDA's deputy secretary for agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, an organic and local food advocate, recently announced a new $50 million program to encourage organic farming. A new USDA division will focus exclusively on organic farming for the first time.
Why should we care? Organic farming uses no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, no genetically modified seeds and makes enhancing soil health as a fundamental goal. It's a big step toward sustainability, compared to traditional agriculture which, in the past few decades, has involved lots of harsh chemical poisons and a heavy reliance on fossil fuels, both of which have the potential to harm longterm soil health, and jeopardize the viability of agricultural lands.
There are also indications that organic produce may be healthier, and that it comes with less pesticide residue.
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