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More People are Buying Organic, But is it Out of Fear?

Jul 31, 2014 03:09 PM EDT

Americans are buying organic products more than ever before, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports. This is great news for the an ever-growing organic movement dedicated to making the slow transition back to all-natural farming techniques. However, the reasoning behind this sudden surge in organic interest may have less to do with the movement, and a lot more to do with fear.

A recent USDA release revealed that the demand for organic products saw a 12 percent hike in 2013, compared to the previous year, resulting in $35.1 billion in sales.

A recent Organic Trade Association (OTA) survey for 2014 also revealed that eight out of every 10 American families now actively and regularly make organic products a part of their shopping list.

The USDA is pleased with these findings, knowing that interest in organic products must keep up with the rapid growth of the industry. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, the total number of acres of US cropland used for organic farming has grown nearly eight times over since 1992, brining totals to well over three million acres by 2011. Pasture and rangeland dedicated to the grazing of organic livestock has likewise shot up to more than 2.2 million acres.

"The trend for organics is growth, more and more people are choosing organic produce and food products and especially in the last 10 years it's been growing at healthy rates," Miles McEvoy, organic program manager for the state of Washington, told the Organic Consumer Association. "In the last four years in Washington we've gone from 290 farmers to 520 because of the increased demand."

However, while the increase in demand is good, the USDA suspects it has less to do with a want to support organic farmers, and more-so with a want to avoid genetically modified crops (GMOs).

GMOs have been a hot topic recently as a debate about labeling and control procedures for these products rages on in the United States. Experts and health officials alike argue that GMOs are adequately controlled in the United States and pose no threat to consumers.

However, this hasn't stopped the public from growing increasingly concerned about GMO rumors.

According to the OTA, nearly 25 percent of surveyed parents reported this year that they actively avoid feeding their children GMO products, despite reassurances from the Food and Drug Administration that these products are not a health threat.

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

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