Organic food sales, since the passage of the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act, have steadily increased each year since, and 2013 was no exception, with organic food sales increasing 11.5% (Statista). Of that growth, 43% of the growth was in fruits and vegetables, followed not very closely by milk and dairy. Processed organic foods made for only a small portion of the increase. However, increases in all categories of organic food far outpaced regular grocery items.
The only year where organic food sales has not increased was the difficult US 2009 recession, when sales of organic food items dropped 1/2 of a percentage point.
Currently, projections for organic food sales show a robust upward tick, with 14% growth by the year 2018.
What factors are driving growth? There are three probable causal factors: one, an increase in health concerns related to diet and environmental exposure; two, an awareness of GMOs and the correlating health issues; and three, more support for environmental protections as they relate to food production.
GMO labeling initiatives have emerged in so many states, with relatively recent labeling campaigns developing in New York and Maine. A GMO labeling initiative has now become law in Vermont, surviving a lawsuit brought by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and interested parties; initiatives to label GMOs are emerging all over the US–even on the local level as ten counties now require GMO food labeling. The issue is world-wide; Putin recently banned GMO technology in his native Russia, making Russia one of the 60 plus European countries to have an outright ban on GMO food technology.
Related to the concerns about GMOS is increased consumer fear about health. Auto-immune diseases are dramatically increasing, along with the incidence of cancer and equally dramatic increases in male infertility, “It’s in the food” is becoming a common mantra as a response to queries about cancer rates–and the new documentary called The Human Experiment, produced by Sean Penn, brings this message home. The Human Experiment follows a series of documentaries that explore problems with modern food production and the potential negative impact on public health. As a result, consumers are voting with their dollars.
For the first time, the food company known as the epitome of industrialized food, McDonald’s, is losing market share, and has recently decided to shutter 700 McDonald’s restaurants.
Add to the mix of fear about GMOs and concern about health are concerns about the environment. The disappearance of honey bees due to agricultural pesticides, erratic weather and severe drought, especially in California’s largest agricultural region which supplies the majority of US produce, coupled with bitter cold and weather extremes may lend support to consumer awareness of environmental protection and a consumer’s opportunity to support environmental health through their spending—i.e., purchase of organic food.
Consumers are paying attention. But politicians don’t seem to be aligning with consumers. Hilary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democrats, has already declared herself to be a firm supporter of GMO technology. Only Rand Paul, among the other candidates, has any record of stating concern about mainstream US food production technology. Will these issues be a factor in the 2016 presidential campaign? One hopes so.