CENTER PROMOTES ORGANIC AWARENESS

AUSTIN, Texas -- The new Center for Organic Education and Promotion made its official debut at the "All Things Organic" third annual conference and trade show held here May 14 through 17.Education of the general public, nutritional research, and a marketing arm have been longstanding goals of the Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass., which was founded in 1985."Everything points to organic

AUSTIN, Texas -- The new Center for Organic Education and Promotion made its official debut at the "All Things Organic" third annual conference and trade show held here May 14 through 17.

Education of the general public, nutritional research, and a marketing arm have been longstanding goals of the Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass., which was founded in 1985.

"Everything points to organic being better, but now we need to prove it scientifically and communicate it effectively," said Theresa Marquez, president of the Center and marketing director for Organic Valley, LaFarge, Wis., a producer of dairy products and the third-largest organic food company in the United States. The center has tax-exempt status, and is an offshoot of the OTA.

Funding future research is a main goal, and the first $1 million fund-raising campaign has been launched as well. So far, about $400,000 has been raised, including $160,000 pledged at the show, Marquez told SN.

During the conference, Helene St. Jacques, president of Informa Market Research, Toronto, showed a 15-second commercial that was aired frequently on Canadian cable television last winter. It claimed that organic oranges provide up to 30% more vitamin C than conventional oranges, based on an academic study, which resulted in 30% to 40% sales growth in the target product.

That is the kind of information the Center wants more of.

"At the end of the day, organic is about dirt," said Marquez. "It's about production processes, and was never designed to be a consumer label. Now that we have the USDA seal, it is a consumer label, but its roots are really in dirt. When you let the soil become a living organism -- which you cannot do with some of the harsh pesticides that kill things in the soil -- our common sense tells us it probably does something to the food, but it doesn't have any scientific backing."

She said a chief worry among consumers is, "Is there something in the food I eat that is going to give me or my kids cancer?" Another point is the effect that an organic diet may have on those with compromised immune systems.

Organic is still only about one and a half percent of the food dollar in food stores, of a total of $9 billion annually. "But we still don't have one and a half percent of the [agricultural] research for sustainable farming," she said. "We need many millions of dollars to do this research. It's one of the things we always beg for at the Farm Bill time."

She said the group is very pleased with the fund-raising response that came out of the convention here. "I think the organic community is very happy to see this kind of initiative get off the ground, and the people involved are veterans in the organic industry, so there is a lot of confidence that we will do what we set out to do," said Marquez after the conference concluded. They have received 127 applications for the executive director position, she added.