As the organic food industry continues to experience rapid growth and with more companies entering the space each year, the sector is also facing numerous challenges, particularly on the regulatory level.
Wanting to get a sense of how my fellow colleagues view the industry, I asked several of them to share an opinion, insight or observation about any aspect of the organic food world. Here is what they had to say.
Jenna Blumenfeld — Senior Food Editor, New Hope Network
I’m interested in seeing organic leaders, companies and investors coalesce to strengthen the USDA organic seal. There has recently been a surge of certification seals that bill themselves as “organic plus”– seals that valiantly offer better-than-organic farming practices, such as no-till.
Certainly, there are gaping holes in USDA organic. Animal welfare rules are lax. No organic aquaculture standard exists at all. But if more brands and farmers and natural lobbyists considered the certification a living, evolving organism — one that can (albeit with a great deal of effort) be improved upon — USDA organic could be the shining certification on the hill.
Above all, we must protect, not dilute, organic.
Lisa Elaine Held — Freelance Journalist, Contributor to Civil Eats, Eater and Food Tank
Organic advocates are always encouraging citizens to “vote with their dollars” for a better food system. If people choose to buy food that’s better for their health and the planet, the thinking goes that rising demand will force the system to shift in that direction.
While there is some power in that proposition, I was struck recently by comments from an expert on how the phrase has actually made it harder to get citizens engaged in the importance of food policy. If consumers believe they can solve these issues at the grocery store, there’s no incentive to pay attention to things like the farm bill — legislation that will profoundly shape how food is produced in this country over the next five years (and beyond) and one that is being deliberated at this very moment.
In other words, I’m surprised that leaders in organic food aren’t doing more to call attention to the many policy opportunities and challenges involved in the current farm bill. It’s hard to get people to care about wonky legislation, but things like funding for organic farming research, farmers markets, and programs that help small, diversified farms create value-added products are pretty straight-forward. I’m curious to see whether the organic industry will do more to mobilize eaters to advocate for better food policies during this farm bill cycle or in the near future.
Stephanie Strom — former Food Business Journalist, The New York Times
The organic industry has yet to capitalize in any significant way on what I think is a big marketing opportunity for it, namely, helping consumers understand how organic farming benefits the environment. Organic agriculture preserves and enhances soil quality and helps soil maintain and capture carbon, which is critical to efforts to address greenhouse gases. My guess is that more consumers would try to buy organic products if they understood the positive impact organic has on the health of the planet.
Megan Poinski — Senior Editor, Food Dive
Organic products are everywhere in today’s grocery store, from produce to pancake mixes. While consumers are readily buying these products, the true definition of “organic” may be getting lost — especially since these items are coming from so many diverse aspects of our food system. Better consumer education, especially by CPG brands, could help people truly understand what they are buying — and could lead to supercharged sales.
Elizabeth Crawford — Deputy Editor, FoodNavigator-USA
The organic industry is coming up on a crossroads where different producers and manufacturers are looking for ways to do more with limited resources, such as land quality and quantity. Additionally, how certified organic decision-makers respond to different approaches could impact the long-term loyalty to the USDA organic seal from end users.
For example, the recent NOSB debate about whether hydroponics, aeroponics and other vertical farming techniques can qualify as organic in some ways underscores a broader socio-economic, political and geographic divide among American consumers. Data shows that Americans want organic and while some are willing to pay a premium, others simply cannot.
At the same time, we see a supply and demand gap that must be addressed. Vertical farming could create more “local” organic options — especially in areas with limited farmland — that are less expensive due in part to reduced transportation and year-round production. But the question of whether these techniques fully meet the soil health requirements of organic and, therefore, qualify for the seal, could become a wedge that drives apart consumers with competing values and needs.
Similarly, the quickly emerging regenerative agriculture movement, which appeals to many producers and consumers who want to see the soil not only protected but improved, could create either an opportunity for organic or a competitive threat, depending on the organic industry’s level of engagement in the creation of a definition and standards for regenerative agriculture. While the two philosophies overlap, regenerative farming doesn’t necessarily mean organic. As a result, if the two grow apart rather than towards each other during this development phase, it could create another fissure to navigate for consumers who shop based on values.
Meagan McGinnes — Senior Reporter, Project NOSH
Having organic certification is no longer a key differentiator and is not sufficient to get people’s attention. The same goes with having a mission. Every company has a mission and while that is great, brands have to have something that affects consumers on a daily basis, such as innovation related to a product, packaging or format.
Have a great day!
Max Goldberg, Founder
Armed with more than $400M in funding, Boston-based Indigo is hoping that its microbes will reduce or even eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, as well as GMOs.
Denmark is getting very serious about having its farmers go organic, dedicating nearly $200M to make this happen.
Germany is close to banning the use of the herbicide glyphosate in household gardens, parks and sports facilities, along with serious limits for its use in agriculture.
An excellent analysis of the many challenges facing organic farmers in rural America.
Supply remains a real issue for millers of organic grains.
After more than two decades of doing business together, California Baby has cut ties with the retailer, citing a change in business policies since Amazon took control of the company.
Brandless, an online retailer which sells organic food, beauty and personal care items for $3, will be opening a “Pop-Up With Purpose” on May 1st.
As online grocery shopping proliferates, the way that companies are approaching packaging is changing as well.
Stonyfield has just launched a three-year, $500,000 initiative to eliminate the use of pesticides in fields and parks of 35 communities across the U.S.
PCC Community Markets, the nation’s largest community-owned food market, has introduced a new subscription-free “Scratch-made Meals at Home” meal kit service made with organic and Non-GMO ingredients.
Danone North America has become the largest B Corp company in the world and plans to do much more in the area of environmentally-friendly practices.
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* For organic food companies ($10M in sales and under) who are looking to open distribution in the outdoor channel, adVenturesAcademy is hosting a Pitch + Demo Day at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Show in Denver on July 24th. For more information about attending, exhibiting and pitching, please visit: www.adventures.academy
* Kiss the Ground is offering a course which helps to educate people how best to articulate the power of healthy soil and regenerative agriculture.
* The Kiss the Ground Speaking Training program can be attended either in person in Los Angeles or online, and the organization is accepting students until next Monday.
* At the Epicenter in Boulder, CO, the Women Leading Regenerative Summit will be taking place on May 15th.
* The Detox Project, which oversees the Glyphosate Residue-Free Certification, has just launched the Gold Standard Detox Certification for the highly unregulated supplement industry.
* The Gold Standard Detox Certification relies on independent, third-party clinical trials to make sure that a product or program, which claims to detox toxic chemicals from the human body, actually does so.
* The certification standard includes 4 different stamps that brands can apply for, covering glyphosate (the world’s most widely-used herbicide), pesticides, heavy metals, and a total detox certification stamp, which shows that a product or program reduces the levels of a full range of ubiquitous toxic chemicals in the body.
* Led by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice, a coalition of environmental organizations and farmers filed new legal papers in federal court seeking the reversal of the EPA’s approval of Dow Chemical’s “Agent Orange” pesticide, Enlist Duo. This super-toxic chemical is a combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D.
* Absolutely tragic news that Mila De Mier, a 45-year-old activist who led the fight against GMO mosquitos in Florida, was found floating face down in a Washington, D.C. hotel pool.