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  • The organic food industry is a booming business. Certified

  • organic products typically have a higher price point and may

  • even be smaller in size or different in taste.

  • But what exactly does organic mean? Regulations vary from

  • country to country. But according to the USDA, "organic"

  • by itself isn't necessarily a health claim. It just means the

  • food was produced using organic methods. These methods include a

  • list of federal standards addressing things like soil

  • fertility, pest and weed control, and animal grazing

  • practices.

  • But most people aren't actually aware of what it takes for a

  • product to receive the USDA Organic seal. In 2014, brand

  • consultancy BFG surveyed 300 shoppers. 70% purchased organic

  • food and only 20% could define organic.

  • Despite a lack of knowledge, demand for organic food is at a

  • record high among consumers. And it's only going up. U.S. organic

  • sales surged in 2020, jumping by 12.4% to $61.9 billion.

  • With consumers being more health conscious than ever, they're

  • willing to pay more for what they perceive as better, even if

  • they're not quite sure that it is.

  • In 2018, organic food and beverage items cost an average

  • 24 cents more than conventional food. Some shoppers are doubtful

  • of U.S. organic food claims. Several investigations over the

  • years uncovering organic label fraud have exacerbated consumer

  • suspicion. The USDA's National Organic program, or NOP, has

  • been stepping up on investigations and enforcement,

  • suspending or revoking 370 operations in the U.S. in 2020

  • alone, but some say it's not enough.

  • On the fraud issue, they have not been the ones that have been

  • in the forefront. They're supposed to be preventing fraud

  • by the enforcement of the rules a,nd time and time again, the

  • horse is long out of the barn before the National Organic

  • Program is even aware that there's a problem.

  • Despite efforts to reduce fraud amid rising demand, any

  • consumers still question: are organic food safer? Are the more

  • nutritious? And are they worth the price?

  • Organic farming was first introduced as a concept called

  • humus farming in the early 20th century, in order to address

  • soil erosion and depletion. These practices included

  • composting, rotating crops and applying animal manure. During

  • World War II, food shortages accelerated agricultural

  • advances by improving mechanization, fertilization and

  • pesticides. Synthetic fertilizers were affordably

  • produced, and machineries were quickly replacing manual labor.

  • The term "organic" was coined in 1940 by Lord Northbourne in his

  • book "Look to the Land," where he talked about taking a natural

  • and ecological approach to farming. He drew inspiration

  • from Sir Albert Howard, whose decades of research led him to

  • the concept that using waste material was vital for soil

  • health.

  • The Industrial Revolution helped the farmer far more with a

  • better plow and with a tractor and an engine instead of a horse

  • drawn. And then we move to how do we package and salvage and

  • save the stuff for longer post World War TII. And oh, look at

  • these chemicals, they work to decimate a jungle, what could a

  • small amount of that do on a field, you know, that kind of

  • thing. So, and we saw how great these chemicals were. But then

  • we realized somewhere along the line probably in the 60s, I'm

  • assuming and into the 70s that hey, maybe we're doing detriment

  • to ourselves.

  • By the 1970s, environmental concerns increased, and

  • consumers began to demand more sustainable produce. In

  • response, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act in

  • 1990 to develop a national standard for organic food and

  • fiber production. The final rules were written and

  • implemented in Fall 2002. This regulation defines organic

  • agriculture as an "ecological production management system

  • that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles

  • and soil biological activity."

  • Organic isn't a health claim, it's simply a labeling term that

  • indicates the food has been grown following the federal

  • guidelines the OFPA. According to the USDA, organic farming

  • entails the use of manures crop rotations, biological control

  • ,and emphasis on biodiversity, the use of rotational grazing, a

  • reduction and elimination of synthetic pesticides and

  • fertilizers and a focus on renewable resources. As for

  • livestock and poultry, the standards require that animals

  • have access to the outdoors year round, fed 100% organic feed and

  • not administered antibiotics or hormones. Consumers looking to

  • shop organic may look for the USDA seal of approval.

  • So let's talk about the different kinds of labeling

  • categories. You can have a 100% organic product. So for example,

  • that organic apple that you take off the shelf and eat that's

  • 100% organic. You can also have products that are 95% or more

  • organic composition. And a product needs to have more than

  • 95% in order to carry that USDA seal. And so you might be

  • talking about, for example, a granola bar that has different

  • kinds of ingredients in it. If more than 95% of those

  • ingredients are organic, it can use the organic seal. There's

  • also a made with organic category. So for example

  • macaroni and cheese, it may be that the cheese or the macaroni

  • or some other component of a product is organic, but the rest

  • of the product is not.

  • Multi-ingredient products with less than 70% certified organic

  • content cannot use the organic seal or use the word "organic"

  • on the front of the food package. However, they can list

  • certified organic ingredients in the ingredient list and the

  • percentage of organic ingredients.

  • Consumer demand for organic products is rising quickly,

  • showing double digit growth over the past decade in the U.S. As

  • of February 2021, organic products in the U.S. can be

  • found in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and nearly 75% of

  • conventional grocery stores. And organic sales account for 4% of

  • total US food sales.

  • The booming organic market in the U.S. can be attributed to a

  • few things, mainly the declining price gap between organic and

  • conventional products. In 2018, organic food and beverage items

  • cost an average of 24 cents more than conventional food. That was

  • down from 27 cents in 2014, a nearly 2% drop.

  • Organic produce seems to be getting cheaper for a number of

  • reasons. For one, arising dependency on fossil resources

  • is causing the price of conventional foods to increase

  • while government subsidies keep the prices artificially low. And

  • more private label retailers are getting in organic foods,

  • creating a downward pressure in the industry to reduce prices.

  • There are tons of reasons why organic food is more expensive

  • in the first place. But it all boils down to the fact that it

  • costs more to produce. It takes more money and labor to adhere

  • to the USDA strict standards regarding production, handling,

  • labeling and storing. Not to mention demand beats out supply.

  • Farmers are just not that interested in the organic

  • standard. They don't they see higher land costs, higher labor

  • costs, and so not too many make the make the switch and that

  • restricts the supply of organic and that's why the price is so

  • high.

  • Over the past decade, shoppers have become increasingly more

  • mindful of their health and COVID-19 has accelerated those

  • trends. According to a 2020 survey.,54% of all consumers

  • cared more about the helpfulness of their food and beverage

  • choices in 2020 than they did in 2010. Some health conscious

  • consumers gravitate toward organic over conventional

  • products due to concerns about highly processed foods,

  • artificial ingredients and the effects of pesticides, hormones

  • and antibiotics.

  • According to a study by Pew Research, 76% of adults surveyed

  • bought organic foods for their health value, followed by

  • environmental concerns at 33% and convenience at 22%. But

  • there is conflicting data about whether or not organic foods are

  • healthier or safer. Take for instance pesticide residue. The

  • consumption of pesticide contaminated food is a major

  • source of human pesticide exposure. And according to a

  • 2017 review in Environmental Health, our current levels of

  • exposure to pesticides can lead to adverse effects on children's

  • cognitive development. In adults ,exposure to pesticides may also

  • lead to the development of Parkinson's disease, fertility

  • issues and cognitive decline. It also mentioned that antibiotics

  • used in the conventional animal production is a key driver of

  • antibiotic resistance in society.

  • The average conventional apple in the United States today

  • contains about four different pesticide residues. And science

  • science is is not at the stage where we can say with certainty

  • what daily exposures to four or five pesticides from food is

  • doing to our children. But there is a broad consensus that it's

  • probably not doing anything helpful.

  • However, there is some data that says otherwise. Organic does not

  • mean that the produce is grown without any pesticides. A few

  • naturally occurring pesticides are approved by the USDA.

  • Research in 2005, at the University of California

  • suggests that the negative public perception of pesticides

  • is overblown, and that the pesticide residue in both

  • organic and conventional crops are too low to have any adverse

  • effects on health.

  • Maybe conventional food has a very low exposure for pesticide

  • residue, and it's not a problem. But maybe organic food has an

  • exposure level that's even lower. So it's not a problem

  • either. I conclude that both are safe. And you should be making

  • your your food choice on on the basis of something more

  • substantial.

  • While there's a lot of discrepancy about whether

  • organic is safer and healthier long term, many agree that

  • organic food isn't better in terms of nutritional value, the

  • Environmental Health review concluded that there was no

  • significant difference in nutrition between organic and

  • conventional crops.

  • An orange that's grown conventionally and an orange

  • that's grown organically. I think they're gonna have the

  • same vitamins in them, I really do. I've been an orange grower

  • all my life. And we haven't changed much from when when dad

  • did it.

  • Organic food is not healthier or safer for you. Whether it's

  • organically grown or conventionally grown, it's going

  • to have the same nutrient content. Now there are

  • situations where you may find an organic orange, say may have 10

  • million more milligrams of say vitamin C, and it's

  • theoretically. It means absolutely nothing to you as far

  • as your health goes, because of the conventional orange let's

  • say has 95 milligrams of vitamin C in it. And let's say

  • organically grown or you may have 110 milligrams, 105

  • milligrams of vitamin C. Well your body doesn't need either

  • one of them, it only needs about 35 milligrams. You don't it need

  • anywhere. It's like driving down the road and you have a full

  • tank of gas and you see a gas station and you say, oh I'm

  • going to pull over and get more gas. Well it's no point because

  • your gas tank's full.

  • Some studies conclude that there simply isn't enough strong

  • evidence.

  • Many people ask me is organic food more nutritious than

  • conventional food? Obviously, that's a complex question. And

  • it varies between say animal products like meat, milk and

  • eggs, and fruits and vegetables, or grains. But in general, for

  • all plant based foods, organic food has between 20-25% higher

  • levels of what's called antioxidants. Now on the animal

  • side of agriculture, which is you know, roughly half the

  • calories that the typical American consumes in a day. The

  • biggest differences with organic farming are in the fatty acid

  • profile in meat and eggs, and milk and dairy products. And

  • these differences are significant.

  • At the height of the pandemic organic grains like rice and

  • pasta are flying off the shelves, mainly due to their

  • long shelf life. Harvesting and selling organic grains is big

  • business. It demands a higher price because it costs more to

  • produce

  • To earn the National Organic seal, the plants cannot have

  • been genetically modified, and they must be grown without the

  • help of unauthorized fertilizers, weed killers or

  • pesticides. But who's verifying this?

  • There are about 75 third-party agencies certified by the USDA

  • to inspect over 16,000 organic farms in the U.S. These private

  • inspectors perform annual audits that include questioning,

  • reviewing documents and examining records. But rarely

  • does it mean actually testing the soil or produce certifying

  • agents are only required to test 5% of their total operations per

  • year. This process largely relies on the honor system in an

  • ethical seller can pass off cheaper commercial round green

  • for the more expensive organic kind and make a huge profit. And

  • some are doing just that.

  • In 2017, a Washington Post investigation revealed that

  • non-organic soy and corn labeled as organic was flooding the U.S.

  • About 36 million pounds of conventional soybeans imported

  • from Ukraine and Turkey were originally priced like regular

  • soy beans, but by the time they reached California, they had

  • been labeled as organic, boosting their value by $4

  • million.

  • 61-year-old Randy Constant was sentenced to 10 years in prison

  • in 2019 for the largest organic fraud case in U.S. history.

  • However, there is a broad consensus that imported produce

  • is more likely to be fraudulent than domestic grown crops.

  • The organic fraud in grains started cause of the high demand

  • for especially eggs and meat and the fact that domestic

  • production could not keep up with the demand. They started

  • looking overseas and the first place that they are went that

  • had open holes was the Ukrainian and the Black Sea region has

  • continually been a problematic area because of lacks of

  • oversight.

  • The rapid growth of the organic food market, higher potential

  • for fraud and increased funding has allowed the NOP to

  • significantly increase its enforcement staff over the past

  • year. In February 2020, the NOP launched an online complaint