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Organic agricultural products, farmers worried about the rising costs, the latest government food safety legislation

18 July 2009 1,133 views No Comment

Organic farming worldwide is partly a product of the 1990s boom times when that market grew rapidly. But now, because of the USA’s deep recession, according to the July 17th, 2009 Reuters article, “Embattled organic sector worries about regulation,”  some farmers are worried and/or angry about the future of organic farming due to new food safety rules emanating from Washington.

Will organic farmers be able to afford the higher costs of keeping the government-required more detailed records of running an organic farm as consumers search for lower-cost, safer, high-quality organic foods? One solution would be local farmers’ markets set up weekly in shopping mall parking lots.

Industrial producers are concerned about how the government defines organic food. In the USA, organic foods account for nearly 45 percent of the global share.

Under the new government legislation, the organic food industry, according to the  Reuters article, would have to pay a $500 registration fee per facility to pay for more plant inspections. Farms, restaurants, and retail food establishments that sell their products directly to consumers, not businesses, are exempt from this fee. There would be a $175,000 cap on such fees.

Sales of organic food have soared from $1 billion in 1990 to an estimated $20 billion in 2007 and by 2006 became the fastest growing sector in the industry, according to the Organic Trade Association. You can read last year’s figures in a PDF file on the organic industry from the Organic Trade Association’s site. But now growth is coming to a halt. Consumers are opting for lower-cost produce.

As more shoppers cut back to eat for less money, the organic food markets are dramatically decreasing, especially over the past several months. You can read more information at the Organic Consumers Association’s site. Look at their directory online to find green products near you.

Whole Foods Market Inc. reported to Reuters in May that quarterly sales fell nearly 5 percent from its stores opened at least one year. Profits also fell but the company said it avoided going into the red by cutting prices to keep consumers coming back.

During the recession, what consumers demand are lower prices. They are buying less luxury foods. If organic food is priced higher, stores selling organic food are feeling the pinch by looking at their sales figures. Statistics show that growth in the organic sector dwindled to 12.5 percent last year compared to the 20 percent it enjoyed a decade ago when the economy boomed.

On top of negative sales figures for markets carrying organic foods and similar products, the latest worry is the newest food safety legislation that passed last month in the Committee on Energy and Commerce  of the U.S. House of Representatives that would be the most sweeping reform of the food safety system in close to 50 years.

The basic problem is the escalating cost to organic farmers that would be involved in conforming to the new safety rules–the government’s legislation. The organic farmers are somewhat skeptical that the new rules in the long run will make food any safer or improve its quality enough.

The cost to organic farmers to operate their farms will increase. The problem for consumers is about food safety.

Presently, according to the Reuters article, grocery associations and major processed food producers now agree that they’re going to work within government’s new safety rules without any regard to the high quality organic practitioners.

Events that have battered the food market other than the recession include the series of vegetable and nut recalls along with the various imported food recalls that range from hazardous toxins in toothpaste to the latest cookie dough recall. The lettuce, pistachio nuts, and peanut recalls have added weight to consumer food and supplement fears.

Recalls for the past three years have eroded consumer confidence in the reliability of the food market. Consumers fear the type of recall of food containing bacteria such as e-coli or salmonella contamination  somewhat more than reports of small levels of lead or other heavy metals in some mineral supplements that may or may not be in excess of one of the state’s requirements.

It’s vermin, toxic substances, and microbial contamination in food that consumers fear most when they read about recalls, especially when the food is fresh or packaged vegetables. Legumes bought in bulk, for example may be caked with dried mud or contain stones. Parents fear the safety of baby food and whether packaged salad vegetables are safer now, remembering the spinach recalls.

Consumers also don’t like when calcium chloride is added to packaged salads or canned vegetables to preserve the color of the vegetables, when it is known that calcium chloride significantly raises blood pressure in people at risk for developing high blood pressure who might not know the risks of certain food additives. Another ingredient  that raises blood pressure that is sometimes added to foods is licorice root.

Organic farmers still say the definition of a facility is unclear in the legislation and they worry about additional costs that might be incurred on small businesses. Inspections will be more frequent, taking place every six to 12 months at high-risk facilities and between 18 months and three years for lower-risk locations.

As part of a broader food safety overhaul, according to the Reuters article, the Obama administration recently announced the creation of a new post of deputy commissioner for foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The position would oversee all food safety activities within the agency.

Necessary reforms target organic farmers, especially the smaller farms. The costs are rising. Farmers will have to conform to the legislation and keep thorough records. They’ll have to pay fees to managers and administrators. The additional, but necessary expense might force some farmers out of business.

Food safety reform has to be done. Farmers are balking about the cost to them. But the important factor is food should be safe. Organic farmers speak about the high quality of organic foods and worry about the cost to get high-quality organic food from the farm to the consumer. Safety, affordability, and quality are what consumers want.

From the farmer’s point of view, the government created the problems and now has created an answer.  Organic farmers are losing money due to the rising costs of running organic farms according to the new government rules emphasizing keeping better food-safety records.

Who’s behind it all? On one side of the ring you have the grocery associations and the processed food producers. On the opposite side of the ring you have the organic practitioners insisting on having the highest quality of organic foods.

Which side is going to win? Again, follow the money. Also see the Reuters “news for  small businesses” site and one of that site’s articles, ” Small businesses brace for slow recovery: survey.”

In the meantime, the FDA overseeing the new food safety legislation has a tough job to do trying to please both the consumer of organic food (in search of safety with affordable prices) and the farmer growing organic produce or packaging organic food products such as raw nut butters.

The trend for consumers is moving closer to growing more home-made food products/vegetable gardening up against the limitations of small living spaces. And the consumer also is plagued with having to prepare food in less time available. TV shows on preparing meals in a few minutes are popular.

Below you’ll find a partial directory of organic food information from a much larger directory on the Organic Consumer’s Association’s site.

Organic Consumer’s Association’s  Food Directory (A selected few of the listings on their site)

Buying Clubs – CSAs
Food Coops,
Food Safety
Farming Books
Health Food Stores
Organic Bread & Pastries
Organic Catering – Food Delivery
Organic Condiments – Spices – Oils
Organic Snacks
Organic Dairy – Eggs
Organic Fruits & Vegetables
Organic Grains – Beans
Organic Manufacturers – Distributors
Organic Meat – Seafood
Organic Non-GMO Seeds
Organic Wine and Beverages
Vegan Businesses
Vegan Products
Vegetarian – Vegan – Raw Food
Baby Food
Pet Supplies
Holistic Dentists
Medicinal Herbs – Herbalists
Vitamins & Supplements

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