(NaturalNews) The demand for organic food in the United States outstrips the supply, according to industry groups such as the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and Organic Farming Research Foundation. This means that imports of organic food are rising, but industry leaders want the U.S. government to take steps to help boost domestic production.
To be certified as organic, food must be grown without the use of any synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, antibiotics, or genetically modified crops or animals. In addition, a field must be free of chemicals for three years before any crops grown there can be certified as organic. The lower profits during those three years prevents many farmers from making the switch.
"The conversion process may be quite daunting," the OTA says. The group says that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides too little guidance for farmers wanting to switch to organic production, and is calling for measures to strengthen the industry and allay farmers' fears through more money for research, strengthened crop insurance for organic farms, and expert advice for growers.
According to Kathie Arnold of the National Organic Coalition, the government should "provide financial and technical support" to farmers during their three-year transition period.
According to the USDA, there are 8,500 organic farmers in the United States working approximately four million acres of crop and pasture land. The OTA says that domestic production is growing, but not as fast as demand.
"In the United States, the buzz about organic has become a steady hum," said OTA board member Lynn Clarkson before a congressional hearing on the topic. "Organic foods are increasingly sold in mainstream retail establishments, which together represent roughly 46 percent of sales."
The OTA told Congress that sales of organic food amounted to about $16 billion dollars in the United States in 2006, or 3 percent of domestic food spending. Sales are growing at a rate of up to 20 percent a year.
The Organic Consumers Association (www.OrganicConsumers.org) is playing a key role in promoting honest, ethical organic standards and is currently engaged in a battle over organic standards with at least one large "organic" milk producer whose milk is not really organic, says the OCA.