It's been a busy year for the organic industry. Record sales in the United States, intensifying competition for the attention of the increasingly savvy organic consumer, and a dogged debate over what organic really stands for have meant a very full plate for the organic community.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA), the leading authority on the North American organic market, will deliver a timely and important two-day conference program, "All Things Organic," at the Natural Products Expo East show in Baltimore Sept. 17 to 20 to provide critical information to help representatives of the organic industry keep up with the issues having the biggest impact on their bottom lines.
The OTA conference, to be held Sept. 18 and 19, will offer the most up-to-date picture of the state of the organic industry and also look into the future to hear about innovative approaches that are encouraging more farmers to go organic. It will zero in on the push for a non-GMO label and address whether secondary certifications are necessary or if they just add to consumer confusion. It will analyze recent regulatory changes affecting organic businesses, and feature an expert panel to discuss the latest developments in the rapidly growing organic fiber sector.
"Every year, OTA's "All Things Organic" program garners much well-deserved attention and sparks conversation," said Laura Batcha, OTA's executive director and CEO. "Organic is becoming a bigger part of our daily lives, from organic's huge role in the farm-to-table movement valuing the freshest and safest ingredients in our diet, to more consumers wanting their fabrics, household and beauty products to be made from environmentally friendly organic ingredients. Our conference helps sort through and clarify the key issues and developments that the organic community needs to be aware of."
The organic industry has enjoyed steady and significant growth for several years, as food shoppers seek out organic in their grocery stores and as consumers incorporate organic non-food products in their everyday lives. Sales of organic food and non-food products in the U.S. in 2013 hit $35.1 billion, a new record and up almost 12 percent from the previous year.
A keynote panel discussion on the current and future state of the organic industry will kick off OTA's conference. Hosted by Sam Fromartz, editor-in-chief at the Food & Environment Reporting Network and author of Organic Inc., the session will feature OTA's Executive Director Batcha, organic farmer Doug Crabtree who is the winner of OTA's 2014 Organic Farmer of the Year Award, Anne Alonzo (administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service), and Ken Cook (president of the Environmental Working Group).
Also discussed will be the tight supply of domestically grown organic food and fiber. As demand for organic has risen, farmers have not been able to keep up, and U.S. imports of organic products have exploded in recent years.
"All Things Organic" will look at the supply/demand issue and will feature some of the country's most forward-thinking organic farmers and researchers talking about ways being explored to make organic farming more accessible to beginning and established farmers. Another session will focus on organic imports, and how to ensure the safety of the American consumer by putting measures in place to assure organic meets the same high standard the world around.
Consumer confusion about just what organic means and the widespread concern over GMOs (genetically modified organisms) will be addressed at another session of the conference. A recent OTA survey of more than 1,200 households across the nation found that for almost a quarter of parents buying organic, wanting to steer clear of genetically modified foods is now one of their top reasons for selecting organic. By law, organic products cannot be produced using GMOs, but that fact can sometimes be lost in the shopping aisle. The conference will look at whether more product labels certifying the absence of GMOs would help or hinder consumers.
The health of people, the environment and organic are all intertwined. With that in mind, "All Things Organic" will discuss new studies showing the beneficial impacts on human health of organic foods, and present a science-based look at global warming and the mitigating effects on climate change of organic agriculture.
The sessions will take place in Rooms 314 and 314 of the Baltimore Convention Center Sept. 18 and 19.
"All Things Organic" is just one of the many activities that OTA will have underway at Expo East. See a list of OTA's complete activities here.