Organic fruits, vegetables and grains contain more nutrients and less toxic substances than their conventional counterparts. This research finding, along with the results of its 2001 Manufacturer Market Survey, were presented by the Organic Trade Association at a press conference at Natural Products Expo East in Washington, D.C.
There is mounting evidence that the dramatic increase of chemical pesticide and fertilizer use in conventional agriculture since World War II may not have been entirely benign from a nutritional standpoint. The nutrient comparison study, which was published in the April 2001 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, is preliminary and should be followed by more research, said Virginia Worthington, M.S., author of the study, but nonetheless, she added, the findings are statistically significant.
"This is a first step because usually in science, research must be replicated," Worthington said. "But on average, if you eat organic instead of conventional, you will get more nutrients."
In a macroanalysis of existing studies that compared nutrient content of organic and conventional produce, Worthington's research showed that organic agricultural methods grow crops with significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, as well as less nitrates than do conventional means. The study also found nonsignificant trends showing better-quality proteins and lower amounts of some heavy metals in organic crops.
Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Greenfield, Mass.-based OTA, was pleased by the results of the analysis, but she added that companies should be wary of promoting organic products on the basis of superior nutritional status until follow-up studies confirm the results.
At the press conference, DiMatteo also made public the findings of OTA's second market survey. Starr Track, an independent research firm based in Arcata, Calif., was contracted to survey manufacturers of branded organic products to determine category sales growth, sales by distribution channel and barriers to growth.
The organic market continues to grow at a steady pace between 20 percent and 25 percent. But respondents to OTA's member survey reported 38 percent growth in sales in the past year and 36 percent average annual growth during the past five years.
The leading organic growth categories were soy foods (meat and dairy alternatives), meat, poultry and dairy. In addition to product-category growth, the survey tracked retail outlet penetration. One of the most dramatic changes between this and the first manufacturer survey, conducted in 1998, was the shift to mass market channels. Almost half of the reported sales in the survey moved through mainstream retail outlets.
Lack of consumer awareness and insufficient capitalization were the primary growth barriers listed by survey respondents.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 1/p. 7