Why Americans Are Turning to Organic Foods

by Ronnie Cummins
National Director, Organic Consumers Association

The nationwide Knight-Ridder newspaper chain began circulating this op-ed
article by Ronnie Cummins on June 29 to its hundreds of newspapers. Among
other papers it appeared as the lead editorial in the July 3 issue of the
Duluth (MN) News Tribune.

Organic foods are the fastest growing and most profitable segment of
American agriculture, according to government statistics. A February 1997
poll by the genetic engineering corporation Novartis found that 54% of US
consumers would prefer to see organic agriculture become the predominant
form of food production--as opposed to conventional, chemical-intensive
farming or agricultural biotechnology. A June 2000 survey carried out by
the National Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, indicated
that 68-69% of the American public believe that the organic label on food
products means that they are safer and better for the environment. This is
the main reason why 10 million organic consumers will buy eight billion
dollars worth of organic food this year in the US. In Europe trends
indicate that 30% of all farming may be organic by the year 2010.

More and more health and environmentally conscious Americans are turning to
organic food. And for good reason:

* Concern over toxic pesticide residues. A March 1999 study by Consumer
Reports found that organic foods had little or no pesticide residues
compared to conventional produce. A 1999 study by the Environmental Working
Group found that millions of US children eating non-organic fruits and
vegetables were ingesting dangerous amounts of a variety of pesticide
neurotoxins and carcinogens.

* Concern over antibiotic drug residues. Organic farming prohibits the use
of antibiotics in animal feed. Recent scientific research has confirmed the
fact that antibiotics, routinely fed to factory farm animals to make them
grow faster, are creating dangerous antibiotic-resistant pathogens which
are infecting Americans who eat these animal products.

* Concern over food poisoning, deadly e-Coli 0157:H7, campylobacter,
salmonella, listeria, and other food borne diseases. The Centers for
Disease Control admit that there are at least 76 million cases of food
poisoning every year in the US. While there are no documented cases of
organic meat or poultry setting off food poisoning epidemics, filthy
slaughterhouses, contaminated feed, and diseased animals are commonplace in
industrial agriculture. According to government statistics, most
non-organic beef cattle are contaminated with e-Coli 0157:H7; over 90% of
chickens are tainted with campylobacter, and 30% of poultry are infected
with salmonella.

* Concern over food irradiation, use of toxic sewage sludge spread on
farmland, and genetic engineering. Organic certification prohibits
irradiation, sewage sludge, and genetic engineering. A 1997 poll by CBS
found 77% of Americans opposed to food irradiation, while a recent survey
by the Angus Reid polling group found the majority of US consumers opposed
to genetically engineered foods. Consumers are especially incensed that
industry and the FDA refuse to require labeling of genetically engineered
food. Numerous polls over the past 15 years have found that 80-95% of
Americans want labels on gene-altered foods, mainly so that they can avoid
buying them.

* Concern over the environment. Studies indicate that the industrialization
and globalization of agriculture are a leading contributor to greenhouse
gases and climate destabilization. Other research shows an increasing
percentage of municipal water supplies are contaminated by pesticide
residues, chemical fertilizers, and sewage runoff from factory farms and

It's no wonder consumers are turning to organic foods while biotechnology
and agri-chemical special interests are starting to panic.

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