This year marks the 10th anniversary of national organic standards in the U.S.
The milestone is worth celebrating because standards have prompted a parade of suppliers to join the category, said Christine Bushway, executive director of the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Organic Trade Association.
“This has meant that organic products are found in mainstream supermarkets throughout the nation, and in many venues,” she said.
Without the standards, that would not have happened so rapidly, or as smoothly, she said.
According to the OTA, U.S. sales of organic food totaled $8.6 billion in 2002. In 2011, that figure reached $29.2 billion.
National organic standards played a considerable role in that increase, Bushway said.
“The most important contribution is to require that organic products sold in the U.S., no matter where they are grown, must meet the same standards,” she said.
All organic products are regulated and produced under the same practices and traceability system, Bushway said.
“With the USDA Organic seal, consumers have an easy way to identify which products in the marketplace are produced using these practices,” she said.
According to the OTA, the U.S. is the largest market for organic products in the world, closely followed by the European Union.
Where would the category be today without standards?
“There would probably be more consumer confusion about organic, and many might never have heard of organic,” Bushway said.
The consistency that standards mandate has been crucial, said Gwen Kvavli Gulliksen, sales and marketing director for Harvest Sensations in Los Angeles.
“People are paying attention,” she said.
Gulliksen noted some irony that standards engendered.
“Here in California, our previous organic standards were much more stringent, so some of our small family farmer friends who were California organic before the U.S. overhaul can’t call themselves organic now because they are not certified,” she said.
Those growers still grow organically but they can’t use the word any longer because of requirements of the law, Gulliksen said.
“Certification is pretty expensive for small farmers,” she said.
Overall, though, standards have done what they were supposed to do, said Tom Deardorff, president of Oxnard, Calif.-based organic grower Deardorff Family Farms.
“I think it’s been hugely successful and has allowed the marketplace to mature with rules and regulations that put it in a definable system, so the consumer can understand what organics meant,” he said.
As of this year, organic growers and shippers in the U.S. have attained equivalency with organic standards in the EU.
That has facilitated international transactions, said Addie Pobst, import coordinator for organic shipper CF Fresh, Sedro-Woolley, Wash.
“Obviously, we’ve had access to those markets, but our growers have had to carry two sets of certification,” she said.