The USDA reported at its annual conference that organic food sales rose 2.1 percent last year. Whole Foods’ CEO said “Organic is a very viable market category. It’s very important. It’s something consumers continue to value with their dollars.
“The Obama Administration’s ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative that’s designed to promote small-scale farming and locally grown foods is ‘spot on’ with what consumers want.
“There is growing demand from consumers for food free of biotech corn or soy.”
The Organic Trade Association says that its share of total U.S. food sales is 3.5 percent. If you listened to USDA and their new found focus on organic food, you’d think it was 33.5 percent or 55.5 percent of total food.
Organic food is a tiny niche production system and always will be. Every acre that is devoted to organic production reduces the aggregate supply of food being produced, which increases the price of food.
The mission of agriculture is to provide consumers healthy, bountiful, economically priced food from a sustainable system of food production at the lowest amount of cost in terms of disposable income, so that society can devote more resources to the development of science, technology, arts and culture to achieve the highest standard of living possible.
I don’t believe that that mission can be accomplished with an organic production system. In fact, I believe that in many ways, organic production produces the opposite result.
I don’t believe organic production significantly improves the environmental impact of agriculture and by providing less food at a higher cost is a less sustainable system than is conventional agriculture. Organic food production has a higher carbon footprint than advanced, more efficient, conventional food production systems.
USDA’s promotion of a niche production system is a politically correct wasted allocation of resources. The more they invest in it, the less U.S. consumers will get out of it. The percent of total consumer spending for food has declined from 16.5 percent in 2001 to approximately 12.7 percent in 2008.
Despite the need to produce more corn for ethanol and higher energy costs, consumers are having to spend less, not more for food, so that they have more disposable income for other needs of which in an economic recession there are many.
Of all the industries and sectors of the U.S economy, none is performing better than U.S. agriculture. We are providing consumers more food at lower prices while reducing the inputs needed per unit of production. We are producing more grain with less energy, pesticides and fertilizer.
Whether it’s livestock or crop production, U.S ag productivity has seen phenomenal growth in a sustained manner that is becoming more, not less sustainable. The technology adopted by commercial agriculture that has generated these productivity gains such as GMOs and CAFOs, are rejected by organic producers.
They use the best production model for the 1950s, tweaked up a little to produce less food at a higher price fulfilling a myth perpetuated as a romantic concept by marketers that this system is superior, being more sustainable than commercial agriculture.
USDA and Mayo Clinic studies found no nutritional difference between commercial and organic food. The CEO of Whole Foods is in the niche food business, so he hopes consumers can be convinced GMOs are risky simply to grow his market. I would call that a “charlatan” scheme.
GMO opposition is ideological, not science-based. Since when is the USDA an ideological agency not driven by science? By promoting an organic production system that rejects biotechnology, the USDA appears to suffer from a new form of bi-polar disorder. This is a politically motivated shift at USDA.
Expensive organic designer food is not needed for a healthy diet. If you want to spend more for a Lincoln than a Ford, you would get more, but you would not get more buying organic carrots over commercial ones.
There is no value added by organic production except that created by the illusions promoted by marketers.
Only a rich society with a successful commercial agriculture could afford to even have this debate. Commercial agriculture cares every bit as much about food safety and quality, as organic producers do.
They care as much about sustainability as do organic producers, but have a broader vision of sustainability as including the need to feed all the people, not just the rich ones.
Any system of food production that can’t feed all the people is not sustainable. Any system of food production that takes so much of consumer’s disposable income to eat, giving them much less with which to live on therein reducing their standard of living is not sustainable.
Any system of food production that rejects technology is a throwback to the dark ages when people starved.
The organic food industry is financially successful because commercial agriculture in the U.S. has made commercial food cheap enough that consumers have money to waste on organic food illusions.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
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