Poisoned land creates demand for `clean' food

CAN FARMING GO GREEN? UNITED STATES Organic growth: How other countries face the challenge

The appetite for organically farmed food is booming in the United States, so much so that demand may soon exceed supply. The Trends Research Institute has identified what it calls "a clean-food diet" as one of the top 10 trends of 1996.

"It's a brand new phenomenon, a major trend now hitting the mainstream," said Gerald Celente, executive director of the institute. "We identified it as such because so-called health foods that were once relegated to a niche market, consumed only by `health food nuts', have started appearing for the first time during 1995 in the aisles of the mainstream supermarkets."

Figures released by the Food Marketing Institute show that today 42 per cent of mainstream supermarkets carry organic produce, and 25 per cent of shoppers are now buying organic food at least once a week. A business opportunity has clearly emerged but, in the view of Mr Celente, "demand will outstrip supply because so much of the land has been poisoned and because the majority of the meat is factory-raised - be it pork, chicken or beef".

"Mad cow has had a strong impact here in the US," Mr Celente said. "It's had a strong subliminal effect, reinforcing what we already intuitively believe, raising public consciousness still further about the safety of what we eat, and accelerating the trend towards a clean-food diet."

The government's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 1994 some 7 million Americans became ill and 9,100 died from food poisoning. But it is not only the imperative to live more healthily and longer that explains the increased demand for organic produce. Other factors include the emergence of a new generation reared in the doctrines of environmental awareness and a spreading clamour for fresher and better-tasting food.The figures show that organic food sales in the US in 1995 hit $7.6bn (pounds 5bn), up 20 per cent from 1994. These sales were 22 per cent up on 1993. Americans spend $400bn on food annually but Mr Celente forecasts that by 2010 organic food will account for 20 per cent of sales.

The trend is reflected most eloquently in the burgeoning number of health- food supermarkets. In 1991 there were 195. Now there are more than 700.

There are 7,000 government-certified organic farms and dozens of sites have emerged on the Internet providing opportunities to buy produce direct from organic farmers.

The variety of organic foods on offer has been growing exponentially. The list includes soups, pizzas, baby foods, soft drinks and even pet food. More than 60 per cent of regular organic food shoppers have a college degree; 73 per cent are under 45; and the average income of health food devotees is $36,000, $5,000 above the national average. "For those who have the means and hear the message, a clean-food diet will become a new-millennium status symbol," Mr Celente predicted.

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