Awareness of organic products has come a long way over the past 12 years, according to Billy Bond, owner of Organic Larder. The Malop St grocery store, which sells high-quality certified organic and bio-dynamic produce, was opened in 2000. Business is booming. Mr Bond said he opened the business when organic products were “a bit of an unknown” in Geelong but his store was thriving as consumers switched to sustainable living. “Now there is a lot more education and media coverage about being sustainable and doing something for the environment,” he said. “People are much more conscious of their environmental footprint.” Mr Bond said the focus on organic food was particularly important, because it related directly to consumers’ health. “A lot of young mums decide to pay specific attention to the food intake of their kids these days because they are starting to realise that environmentally-sustainable choices are usually healthy choices,” he said.
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Another reason for choosing organic food was knowing exactly what you’re eating. “Supermarkets these days have very loose labelling guidelines,” he said. “If all the ingredients in a product come from overseas but it’s just put together in Australia they are allowed to say it’s made here, but that’s very deceiving.” A large focus of Mr Bond’s business is placed on supporting local producers and growers, with an emphasis on quality and nutritional value. “We want people to know what they’re getting when they come here so they can make sustainable choices,” he said. He believes the increasing popularity of organic and sustainable items will lead to supermarkets being held accountable for their products. “People are starting to ask questions and they want to know more about the products they are using. Hopefully this will lead to labelling laws being changed and big supermarkets selling more organic products,” he said.
The organic food industry, which has more than quadrupled its sales in the USA in the last decade, is getting more attention in university classrooms and research labs.
The U. S. Department of Agriculture has put an unprecedented $117 million into organic research in the last three years. Advocates are pushing for a bigger share in a new five-year farm bill Congress expects to pass this year. The amount of research on organics still is dwarfed by the more than $10 billion annually spent on public and private agricultural research in the USA.
A new report by the Organic Farming Research Foundation says the number of states that have devoted land for organic research nearly doubled from 2003 to 2011 to 37. Universities offering academic programs in organic farming jumped from zero to nine, says the OFRF, which supports organic farmers and processors.
The group says the universities of Florida, Tennessee and Minnesota, and Washington State, Michigan State and Colorado State universities are doing the best among 72 schools it judged on eight measures of organic farming research and instruction.
” The organic industry is just the fastest-growing sector in agriculture right now,” says David Butler, an assistant professor of organic, sustainable and alternative crop production at the University of Tennessee. ” There are a lot of small producers interested in organic crops, just to capture the greater dollar for their crops and make a living on a smaller piece of land.”
About 14, 600 farmers are certified under USDA organic regulations for agreeing not to use synthetic fertilizer or genetic engineering, among other requirements. The USDA hopes to increase that number by 20% over five years. Recruiting more organic farmers is also part of the USDA’s efforts to replace an aging farmer population with at least 100, 000 new farmers overall.
The Organic Trade Association says sales of organic products rose from $7. 4 billion in 2001 to $31. 4 billion in 2011 and increased from about 1. 4% to 4% of total U. S. food sales.
The rise in demand comes from health and environmental concerns and what Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan calls ” this growing desire of people wanting to know how their food was produced, and who produced it.”
Maureen Wilmot, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, which has awarded about $2. 75 million in small research grants in the last decade, says public universities are not meeting research needs for rising organic demand.
Merrigan says the organic industry’s growth has led to innovations for non-organic producers. ” Organic farmers in many ways have been research pioneers,” she says.