Study: GMO aversion driving organic sales

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 30, 2014 - Parents' desires to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMO) are partially driving the increased sales of organic products, according to a study conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and released last week. 

The study, a survey of over 1,200 households across the U.S. with at least one child under 18, found that nearly 25 percent of parents already buying organic said that avoiding GMOs is a top reason they choose organic. Only 16 percent of parents said the same in 2013, OTA says.

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The study was released as the debate - in several states and on Capitol Hill - over the need for the labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients continues to grow. Some argue that there is no need for a label because consumers can purchase organic products if they desire to avoid food products containing GMOs.   

U.S. sales of organic products hit $35.1 billion in 2013, 12 percent higher than in 2012. It's a new record for the industry, according to OTA.

“Each year we see an increase in parents' self-described knowledge of organic topics,” said Laura Batcha, OTA CEO and executive director. “Parents have become more informed about the benefits of organic, and they have also become more aware of the questions surrounding GMOs. That heightened awareness is being reflected in their buying decisions.” 

The survey also found that 73 percent of parents know what “GMO” means, even if they do not buy organic for their households. 

The news comes as the organic industry works to differentiate itself from “GMO free” and “Non-GMO Project” labels. USDA prohibits the use of GMOs in its certified organic products. As Miles McEvoy, the Agriculture Department's National Organic Program (NOP) deputy administrator, explained last year, “This means an organic farmer can't plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can't eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can't use any GMO ingredients.”

However, the national organic standards do not provide a specific tolerance level for GMOs, as they do for many pesticides. If the department finds trace amounts of GMO in a certified organic product, then, that does not mean the source farm is in violation of NOP rules. Instead, certifying agents might investigate the farm to determine how the GMO ingredient got into the organic product and then recommend ways to avoid the trace GMO in the future.

“For example, they may require a larger buffer zone or more thorough cleaning of a shared grain mill,” McEvoy writes on USDA's website. 

OTA is officially against the use of GMOs in agriculture, and has called for a moratorium on their use. When organic products are contaminated by GMOs, the organization “shall advocate for policies that assign the cost of contamination prevention and market loss to the developers of GMO technology,” according to its official policy position. 

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