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Organic Industry Needs a Check-off Program

Organic Industry Needs a Check-off Program

Two recent studies by reputable researchers both concluded that organic produce is no more nutritious than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.

The findings stirred passionate debate about the entire category: What is organic all about? It’s a question that lingers, even as organic food sales continue to grow at 10% a year, bringing in nearly $30 billion in 2011.

Despite those impressive numbers, organic faces significant hurdles: It still has only a 4% market share of retail food sales. Advocates have criticized the studies for focusing too much on nutrition instead of sustainability. The 2012 Farm Bill, which promised at least some funding for organic research and promotion, remains stalled in Congress, with only a slight chance of passing in its present form by the end of this year.

It’s time for organic farmers, producers and manufacturers to start thinking like a brand, and to chart their own course.

The Organic Trade Association has launched a series of meetings with various stakeholders to gauge the feasibility of implementing an organic check-off program. Supporters say it could provide up to $30 million a year to fund advertising, education and research, much like the 19 other marketing and promotion orders approved and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In a story that appears in the Winter 2012 issue of SN Whole Health, Christine Bushway, OTA’s CEO and executive director, notes that unlike other check-off programs devoted to single commodities like pork or watermelon, this one would cover all categories that sell organic products. It would be the first cross-category order in history, and mark an important milestone in the development of the organic industry.

WH Asks poll results: Wellness Sales Feeling the Pinch

U.S. consumers are in dire need of a cohesive, consistent message that conveys what organic is all about. Shelves are a lot more crowded with labels and certifications and causes than in 2001, when the USDA National Organic Program was implemented. Organic can take credit for forging the path that has created this broad range of health and wellness products and services we see in supermarkets today.

In some ways, organic has become a victim of its own success. Poll after poll has shown that the average consumer still doesn’t really know the difference between natural and organic.

Whose job is it to tell them?

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