Organics Deepen Veggie Roots but Struggle in Meat Aisles
Organic foods are seizing shelf space in the fresh food sections of US grocery stores, but struggling to break into the bread and meat aisles.
Organic-product sales farmers made to businesses, including Dean Foods and Wal-mart Stores, totalled $5.5 billion in 2014, according to a US Department of Agriculture survey of organic growers. That’s 72 per cent higher than in 2008, the last time a similar survey was conducted.
Sales so far have been concentrated in fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as in perishable milk and eggs, due to consumer concerns over synthetic farm chemicals. For organics to go mainstream, they need growth in grains and meats, where genetically modified seeds and livestock production methods are harder to change.
"That’s a critical frontier for organics,” said Catherine Badgley, a University of Michigan ecology professor. “I think little by little, we’re getting there, but there are some areas where growth is more difficult to achieve."
Producers of organic meats and grains are struggling to boost production even as big retailers such as Target and Costco Wholesale are expanding their sales of sustainable products.
That’s because of hurdles fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables don’t face, said Jeff Moyer, executive director of the Rodale Institute, which focuses on research and promotion of organic farming, in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
"Fresh produce is something you purchase as a whole food and consume directly," said Moyer, a former chairman of the National Organic Standards Board that helps the USDA craft organics rules. “It was a good place for the organic movement to start, because you don’t need 10,000 acres to do it.”
Land dedicated to organics in the US fell in the 2014 survey, to 3.7 million acres (1.5 million ha) from 4.1 million acres in 2008, in part because of slow adoption in grazing areas. Production also remains concentrated on the U.S. coasts and upper Midwest.
The decline in acreage may make US producers less competitive with growers from overseas, said Paul Wolfe, a policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which advocates for organics in Washington.
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