Organic food has seen a significant rise in interest over the past few years. But what does the future hold?
No one can really tell, but based on emerging trends over the past year, here are a few predictions in the world of organic food.
- Local food will continue to rise
More and more people are starting to seek out local food. Trends in the DC area have continued to rise with the demand for local food, for example the Silver Diner switched to source their foods locally and had a huge media blitz about their change. Local food however is really a buzzword. No one has defined what the term “local” means. It could mean within 150 miles or the east coast and it certainly does not qualify food as organic. While many consumers are buying local because they think they are doing the right thing, they are not necessarily sourcing food that is sustainable. The good news is that at least people are paying attention to the environmental impact of the food that they eat. The local food movement is all about food miles and sourcing locally is a step in the right direction. This trend will become more and more popular over the next year and will hopefully inspire the masses to examine organic food as well.
- Child Nutrition and Health
The frightening statistic that one in three children born after the start of the millennium will develop diabetes, and two out of three children in minority groups, has managed to motivate congress to take an interest in childrens’ nutrition. The food that we put into our bodies will determine our health, longevity and resilience to disease and allergies. The generations that are being raised today can’t even comprehend that food comes from farms. That’s a large jump from the government food pyramid of generations past that at least understood that they needed veggies as a source of vitamins. Our culture has degraded so significantly that we must introduce vitamin equivalents (fortification) into our processed food system to provide the nutrition that we understand the human body to need.
The passage of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act in 2010 has set the way to really challenge schools and parents alike to support a healthy development for children that includes saying no to junk foods and McDonalds alike. Part of this is getting people involved in their community. Parents en masse are stepping forward to start cooking for kids. At present the cost per child for a meal is abysmal in the order of less than $2 per day. That’s poverty. Kids need nutrition and their development years are the most important where they are learning the habits that will form the adults that they will become. Many parents are making the step towards buying organic milk for their kids. This is great first step and in 2011 as we see more emerging research suggesting that their is a direct link between pesticides and behavioral issues in children, like attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), we’ll see more parents making the push to switch to organic.
- Keep a watchful eye on the FDA and USDA
With the passage of the FDA food Safety Modernization Act in 2010, the government has been given more authority than ever to shut down organizations as they see fit. While this may seem like a good thing for the food giants that have been wrecklessly ruling our industry for years, the power may soon decide to impose crippling regulations for small organic farmers. In DC, we are fortunate to have access to organic coops, pasture-raised meats and community supported agriculture shares. Regulations and excessive paperwork could easily shut down some of these farmers, so it’s important for everyone to really watch who is influencing the decision-making in the FDA and USDA.
- Keep a watch on the seas…or land for that matter
Back in June, at the “Future of aquaculture” panel at the Smithsonian Institute offered a shocking revelation that the future of aquaculture, or raising fish in an industrial agriculture way, meant the advent of genetically engineered salmon. Straight from the mouth of the USDA to the ears of abundantly concerned consumer, the debate rages on. Thankfully, due to the diligence of many food organizations and the media bringing this information to the public’s attention, GE salmon has not been pushed through the FDA like so many other items (ahem, Monsanto’s GMO beets…you know who you are). However, despite nearly 400,000 signatures from consumers and the outcry of consumer, environmental, and animal welfare watch groups, the FDA pushes towards the approval of the first-ever genetically engineered (GE) salmon. There is at least one silver lining and that is California is pushing for labeling. California has always led the nation in consumers’ right to know and keeping big Ag in check. Hopefully the State Assembly bill that would require GE salmon to be labeled will pass and set precedence for all other states to follow. It’s clear consumer don’t want GE salmon. If the FDA approves the commercial production of AquaBounty’s GE salmon, it will not only prove how corrupt our “watch dogs” actually are, but it will leave consumers clueless as to whether or not the fish they consume has been modified and even wild salmon would not be safe as reports have indicated that there’s a strong chance that the GE salmon would escape and mate with native species.
- Talks of overturning the Farm Bill in 2012
In 2012 the farm bill, which provides farmers with government subsidies for corn will be up for renewal. The farm bill has proven to be nothing but a boondoggle. Originally created in 1965 and revised continuously ever since to support the overproduction of corn, the bill has directly led to supporting the rise in obesity, production of ethanol and unsustainable agriculture. Overturning the farm bill has always been a mountain to climb. With 28 states relying heavily on the subsidies for their livelihood, it’s been impossible to overturn the bill because politicians fear not being reelected should they vote to eliminate subsidies. However, with the advent of the financial crisis, healthcare on the forefront of people’s minds and green-living becoming trendy, the bill stands a chance of being revised.
What needs to happen in 2011 is for all the organizations to come together and agree on a revision that supports organic production of fruits and vegetables while corn is phased out. With industrial agriculture having a heavy influence on congress currently and the money to pay lobbyists, it’s more important than ever for nonprofit watch groups to come together as one voice. With the rise of so many republicans in congress, the voice must make arguements that the new congress can rally behind. These three points are: less government spending, better health and more jobs. While environment and global food crisis are big factors, it’s unimportant to conservatives.
How does overturning the farm bill support, jobs, healthcare and reducing government spending?
First and foremost it’s a government subsidy that is provided to farmers. According to the USDA, in 2009 the government paid $12.3 billion to producers. With republicans wanting to cut $100 billion out of the budget, subsidies for corn have got to go. However, this will need to be phased out instead of yanked so that it can give farmers time to transition.
Next is health. Taxpayers are subsidizing obesity. Most of the corn produced in the US is then refined into sugar and preservatives for junk food; the rest is fed to the meat production industries. This creates an artificially low cost of food and increases the amounts of fat, carbohydrates in sugars in food, which directly causes obesity. With a culture that is so sensitive to food prices, it’s important to subsidize fruits and vegetables instead of the bad foods. This will have a direct impact on people’s health and will bring down the overall cost of healthcare by reducing diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. That’s something that we can all get behind!
The third is jobs. Agriculture is the only industry that brags about putting people out of work. The only way farmers can make any money is to scale up, which means buying equipment rather than hiring more people. Switching to organic fruits and vegetables will not only create a more sustainable agriculture, but it requires more manual labor, which means jobs. No republican can argue putting people to work.
There is hope for the future. More consumers are becoming aware of their food, where it’s produced and how it’s produced. It’s only a matter of time until the critical mass is achieved and the policy wonks will have to bend to the will of the people.
Will we get there in 2011? That’s up to you, America.
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