Daily News Archive
From July 18, 2005

The Greening of American Consumers: Organic Food and Beyond
(Beyond Pesticides, July 18, 2005)
A recent national survey found 20 percent of participants had bought some kind of environmentally-friendly lawn and garden product. Other surveys are increasingly showing that the trend in consumer demand and competitively-priced commercial supply for green products is on the rise, according to a report by Scripps Howard News Service.

Alarmed by increasing reports of mercury in fish, antibiotics in meat and poultry, hormone-mimicking chemicals in cosmetics, and pesticides in toothpaste, American consumers are being driven by health and environmental concerns toward green products, from arsenic-free lumber to pesticide-free pet food.

A recent survey of 2,000 adults by the Natural Marketing Institute found that 88 percent agreed that "it is important for companies to not just be profitable, but to be mindful of their impact on the environment and society." More than 70 percent of those surveyed said that knowing a company is mindful of its impact on the environment and society makes them more likely to buy its products or services.

The biggest growth has been with organic food and beverages. In the United States, organic products account for only about 2 percent of the food and beverage market. But the conventional food market has been growing 2 percent to 3 percent a year, while sales of organic products have been growing about 20 percent a year for the past several years and are projected to reach $15 billion this year, according to the Organic Trade Association. That's up from about $1 billion in sales in 1990, the association said.

One reason for the organic boom is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture completed its standards for food products that can be labeled "organic" and carry the department's "organic" seal in October 2002. As a result, consumers are more confident that the products they are buying are truly organic, and manufacturers feel that they are competing on a level playing field, food-industry executives said.

"You can now find organic products in most mainstream supermarkets," said Barbara Haumann of the Organic Trade Association. "Some mainstream supermarkets are coming out with their own house label for organic products."

The organic-food market will likely continue to experience double-digit annual growth for the next five to 10 years before leveling off, projected Steve DeMuri, senior manager for commercialization and improvement at Campbell. It's possible that by 2020 sales of organic food in the United States could reach $80 billion a year, he said.

The movement is worldwide. There are now nearly 560,000 farms in 108 countries that are certified organic, according to the Foundation Ecology & Agriculture in Germany. The worldwide market for organic food and beverages is estimated at $25 billion.

“Organic food has opened the door to people’s minds,” said Eileen Gunn, project director with Beyond Pesticides. “People are beginning to see that if pesticides aren’t necessary for food production, then maybe they aren’t necessary for lawn care, bug control, or most of the other reasons people reach for poisons.”

Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine and has been testing products since 1936, recently launched a green-products Web site.

"We are not only interested in helping consumers understand how to buy more environmentally sustainable products, but also how to use them in the most sustainable way, which can save them money and save their health in the long run," said Urvashi Rangan, an environmental scientist at Consumers Union.

The marketing institute's annual lifestyles survey, released in February, found that 31 percent of consumers had bought compact fluorescent lightbulbs within the last 12 months, 28 percent had purchased some kind of natural household cleaning product and 20 percent had bought some kind of environmentally friendly lawn-and-garden product.

Between 1999 and 2003, the number of American households buying organic fertilizer nearly tripled, to 11.7 million, according to the National Gardening Association. Like the big food companies, big fertilizer companies have also responded to the growth in demand for organic products.

However, unlike organic food, there is no federal standard for organic fertilizer, leaving each state to set its own. The problem is that any fertilizer that contains carbon can currently be referred to as organic.

The Association of American Plant Food Control Officials, which represents state regulators, has proposed a model standard for states to adopt if they wish, but that standard has been strongly criticized by the Organic Trade Association as misleading to consumers. The proposed standard wouldn't prevent manufacturers from labeling fertilizer as "organic" even if it contains ingredients made from petroleum and other chemicals, which is often the case now, said Emily Brown Rosen, a consultant with Organic Research Associates in Titusville, N.J.

Source: Excerpted from "More consumers go green," by Joan Lowy, Scripps Howard News Service.

TAKE ACTION: Join with Beyond Pesticides in encouraging the demand and supply of green products and non-toxic methods. Drop off a letter to Home Depot insisting the lawn and garden retail giant start carrying a full range of natural, non-toxic products, and sign the Declaration on the Use of Toxic Lawn Chemicals. To see more surveys on the demand for natural lawn products see the Declaration Backgrounder. For solutions to common household insect or weed problems or to help stop the dependence on pesticides in your child’s school, local park, or neighbor’s yard, visit www.beyondpesticides.org or contact us by email or phone. Find commercial service providers in your state who have disclosed their methods.