Inter-Change

BUYING ORGANIC

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No Longer a Challenge, Buying Organic is About to Get Easier

(ARA) - Going organic used to be difficult. Finding products made without any pesticides, hormones or antibiotics presented a challenge to all but the most dedicated shopper. But those days are rapidly fading. Sales of organic foods, a category that includes everything from fresh produce and dairy products to meats and packaged items, are growing at a rate of more than 20 percent per year. Increased consumer demand has led to both a greater selection of products and wider distribution of organic foods. Organic products are now widely available at major grocery chains as well as at natural food stores across the country.

In October the U.S. Department of Agriculture's national organic standards will go into effect, making it even easier for consumers to identify products that have been produced organically. All qualified organic products will carry an official USDA seal of organic certification. In the case of dairy products, USDA organic certification means that animals must never be treated with hormones or antibiotics and they must be fed only organic grains and hay. The land on which organic food or fibers are grown must be free of prohibited substances, including pesticides, for three years prior to certification. In addition, farmers and processors must keep detailed records of methods and materials used in growing or processing organic products. All methods and materials are inspected annually by third-party certifiers approved by the USDA.

With the issues of mad cow disease and genetically modified organisms in foods in the news, American consumers are more aware of the connection between their health and what they eat, and are more concerned about food safety. The Environmental Protection Agency considers 60 percent of all herbicides, 90 percent of all fungicides, and 30 percent of all insecticides as potentially cancer-causing.

Pesticide residues in foods are particularly worrisome to parents. A growing body of evidence suggests that kids, with their rapidly developing nervous systems, are far more sensitive to pesticides than adults. And, according to a recent Consumers Union (www.consumersunion.com) finding, 73 percent of conventionally grown foods have at least one pesticide residue, while only 23 percent of organically grown samples of the same crops had any residues. Organic foods provide peace of mind for parents who are concerned about food safety because they are produced and processed without any pesticides, hormones or antibiotics.

Farmers are also increasingly aware of the economic and environmental benefits of organic farming. Conventional agriculture is the largest polluter of America's rivers and streams, fouling more than 1,730 miles of waterways with expensive chemicals, erosion and animal waste runoff. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, farming is responsible for 70 percent of waterway pollution, outstripping sewage treatment plants and airborne pollution. Organic farming reduces every type of farm pollution by eliminating the use of toxic and persistent chemical pesticides, and fertilizers, and building a biologically-diverse agriculture.

Horizon Organic, the nation's leading organic food company, is committed to educating consumers and farmers on the benefits of organic agriculture. For the consumer, Horizon Organic has opened the country's largest and most comprehensive organic education center. Located just outside Annapolis, Maryland, the center offers kids and adults the opportunity to learn about organic agriculture and sustainable farming methods. Horizon Organic's web site (www.horizonorganic.com) also offers consumers details on organic practices, certification and recipe suggestions. The company also has a registered dietician on staff to answer consumers' questions about nutrition and organic consumption.

As 60 percent of Horizon Organic's milk supply comes from independent family farms, sustaining those family farms and preserving rural communities are important to the company. Horizon Organic supports more than 150 independent milk producers and continually provides them with the latest news on issues facing the organic industry, offers support on key issues affecting their farms and provides a forum in which everyone can contribute to the advancement of the organic industry.

"We support organic agriculture on both sides of the equation," says Kelly Shea, director of organic agriculture, Horizon Organic. "We buy from organic dairy farms and organic grain suppliers and then produce and distribute the products so consumers can benefit as well."

Horizon Organic is also dedicated to making organic products that consumers will buy without having to compromise on convenience, choice or taste. The company recently introduced the first single-serve flavored organic milks, including chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and plain. Horizon Organic has also launched a line of puddings made with 100% organic milk. Horizon's other products include milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, eggs and refrigerated juices. They are available in natural food markets, including Whole Foods and Wild Oats, major grocery chains such as Kroger, Albertson's and Safeway, and in Starbucks stores across the country.

"The market for organic products is only expected to increase as more producers see the benefits of sustainable agriculture, and as consumers become more aware and more concerned about the food they consume and the impact that farming methods have on the environment," says Shea.

As more acres are converted to organic farming and consumers increasingly demand the quality of organic products as well as the convenience they've come to expect, producers such as Horizon Organic will respond to those demands by making more organic products available. In the end, it's a win-win situation: Consumers can feel safe and confident in the foods they eat, get the range of products they want and the quality they expect, and help to preserve the environment.

For more information about organic farming and Horizon Organic, visit www.horizonorganic.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content