Organic food isn't only one of the hottest industries around – it's also an increasingly important part of our appetite. But there's a lot about organic that most folks don't know. Here are 13 important numbers that define the organic food movement.
Farmers can't switch to organic growing overnight. For three years before their first certified organic harvest, farmers can't use any forbidden substances on their land. That includes sewage sludge, most synthetic fertilizers, and most pesticides.
5.4% of all used farmland in the European Union is certified organic. By comparison, the United States' 2.2 million organic hectares amounts to just around 0.7% of total agricultural land. But not all European countries are created equally organic. The map below shows the regional share of organic farms as a percentage of total used farmland in Europe for 2010.
In the European Union, the most commonly grown organic crop is olives, comprising 31% of all organic production. Grapes snagged a sizable 17%, with nuts clocking in at 13%.
Alcohol can be organic, too. For your spirits to lay claim to a "Made with organic ____" stamp, the contents must be at least 70% organic.
In the Code of Federal Regulations, there are 81 distinct "parts" to Title 7, Subtitle B, Chapter I, Subchapter M, Part 205 (the "National Organic Program"). At a total print length of 70 pages for just the regulations themselves, parts cover topics as disparate as wild-crop harvesting, emergency disease treatments, and peer review panels.
When you buy any multi-ingredient "organic" product, chances are it's not actually 100% organic. The USDA requires that only 95% of any product be certified organic. While staunch organic eaters might not like this news, it's a matter of feasibility for most foods. Some ingredients simply don't have organic options to offer, and the USDA still wants to recognize those products that are almost entirely organic.
Whole Foods Market, (NASDAQ: WFM), the grocer that brought organic food to markets across America, began its journey in 1980 with a single Austin, Texas store. Today, the company boasts more than 360 stores across the United States and United Kingdom.
Whole Foods Market may have brought organic food to markets nationwide, but Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT) wants to bring it to mainstream America. The company announced in April that it will begin selling Wild Oats organic food items in its more than 4,000 stores across the United States. According to Wild Oats, it has already made its way into 2,000. That's a game changer for the industry, both for sellers and buyers. Wal-Mart expects to drop organic product prices 25% or more compared to other national brand organics.
If a farmer or seller "goes rogue" and starts calling their product organic without full USDA compliance, they could face up to $11,000 in fines per violation and lose the right to the organic title.
There are currently 17,700 organic operations in the United States.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has doled out around 25,000 organic certifications to farms and businesses – and not just in America. The USDA has certified farms and companies in over 100 countries worldwide.
Europe boasts more than 186,000 farms across its Union. While the original 14 member states account for more than three-quarters of its organic land and farms, the newest dozen nation states have been growing their organic assets at an annual rate of 13% between 2002 and 2011.
The U.S. organic retail market is currently valued at $35 billion.
There's plenty more to learn when it comes to educating yourself on organic. These numbers are changing fast, and most are growing at increasingly rapid rates as the organic food industry soars. Keep an eye on organic food investments, and you may be able to satisfy more than just your stomach.
John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Justin Loiseau owns shares of Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool recommends Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.