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Organic Trade Association busts six myths about organics

Many will remember 2011 for its economic troubles, the beginning of the 2012 presidential election campaign, and unprecedented political demonstrations around the world and closer to home. But the Organic Trade Association, headquartered in Brattleboro, VT, wants people to also remember the six myths that research busted about organic agriculture and consumer acceptance of organics during the year.

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Organic grapes ready for picking. (Photo courtesy of the Organic Trade Association)

On Dec. 19 the OTA issued its Six Myths Busted by Organic in 2011 report, which highlights news that defied the old stereotypes.

Myth No. 1 is that “organic is a niche market.” The OTA reported that new research shows that 78 percent of U.S. families said that they purchase organic products. Organic fruits and vegetables captured more than 11 percent of the total fruits and vegetables market in 2010. Organic buyers are more likely to be Asian, African American, or Hispanic than non-buyers. They are more likely to report household incomes of $35,000 and higher and are more likely to be under 25.

Myth No. 2 is that “U.S. consumers are ambivalent about genetically modified organisms.” The OTA reported that nine in 10 parents say it is important to label genetically engineered foods, and 78 percent of parents are concerned that genetically engineered foods could lead to unintended side effects in the environment or in animals.

The third myth is that “organic foods are too expensive for the average family.” The OTA reported that 78 percent of U.S. families now buy organic food at least some of the time and that smart shoppers can and do make organic choices on a budget. The OTA offers strategies for consumers looking to enjoy the benefits of organic products for less, the report said.

The fourth myth is that “organic farming cannot feed the world.” The OTA stated that recent research from Iowa State University’s long-term trials found that conventional and organic produced similar yields, while organic produced better profit and resulted in better soil quality. The Oct. 20, 2011 issue of Nature outlined solutions for a cultivated planet to meet growing food needs. It stated that to meet the world’s future food security and sustainability needs, food production must grow substantially while, at the same time, agriculture’s environmental footprint must shrink dramatically.

Myth No. 5 addresses the “concern about agrichemicals being yesterday’s news.” Last spring, three independent, government-funded studies published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that children whose mothers were exposed to common agricultural pesticides are more likely to experience impaired or delayed cognitive development. Organic, the OTA stated, is the only agricultural system that verifies — using certification and inspection — that toxic and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are not used at any point in the production process.

Lastly, myth No. 6 regards the “jobless recovery” as it applies to organics. An OTA study revealed that the organic industry grew by nearly 8 percent in 2010, and added jobs at four times the national average. With four in 10 families buying more organic products than they did one year ago, organic is growing — and hiring. Forty percent of companies in the organic sector hired full-time employees in 2010 and 46 percent of organic businesses anticipated hiring full-time employees in 2011.

Information for the OTA report came from various studies, including the OTA’s 2011 Organic Industry Survey and its U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2011 Tracking Study.