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Growth of the Organics Industry

There's no doubt about it: organic farming is increasingly popular. Organic products have grown on average more than 20% per year over the last 7-10 years, making it the fastest growing segment of agriculture!

Organic Food Industry Timeline

1920s to 1940s - American and British publications form the foundation of organics.
Writers in the United States and Great Britain -- Sir Albert Howard, Rudolf Steiner, Lady Eve Balfour and J.I. Rodale to name a few — publish influential works introducing the basic idea of organics. They posit that the health of plants, soil, livestock, and people are interrelated. They advocate for an approach to farming based on working with natural systems rather than trying to control them.

1940s - Chemical pesticides and herbicides make their way into agriculture.Synthetic pesticides and herbicides are introduced to American agriculture as part of the Green Revolution.

1940s to 1950s - Organic farmers form network and write their stories.A loose network of farmers - including J. I. Rodale, Ehrnefried Pfeiffer of Kimberton Farm School, and Paul K. Keene of Walnut Acres Farms - shun chemical agriculture by farming organically and writing about their experiences.

1953 - Consumers gain increased access to organic food.Natural Food Associates (NFA) is formed in Atlanta, Texas, to help connect scattered organic growers with fledgling markets for organically grown foods.

1962 - Rachel Carson's Silent Spring sounds a clarion call for environmentalism.Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is published. The book documents some of the negative consequences associated with chemical use in agriculture and gives rise to a new environmental consciousness and renewed focus on organic agriculture.

1973 - Consumer opposition to chemical pesticides grows.The United States bans the pesticide DDT, which some mark as the start of the modern environmental movement. The organics industry grows appreciably due to expanding consumer opposition to chemical pesticides coupled with a desire for food that is produced without harming the environment.

1970s - Regional groups from across the US begin to develop private organic certification standards.The expansion of the organic food industry prompts activists across the United States to form regional groups and create organic standards by which to certify farmers and their crops.

1980 - Whole Foods Market is launched in Austin, Texas.Safer Way Natural Foods and Clarksville Natural Grocery join forces to open Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas, with a staff of 19. The new retailer supports organic agriculture and stocks organic produce and other foods throughout the store.

1989 - A damning report on Alar is published by the NRDC."Alar Sunday." That's what the 60 Minutes broadcast on February 25, 1989 was nicknamed in the organics industry. The broadcast highlighted a research report by The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on Alar (diaminozide), a synthetic growth regulator widely used on apples to keep them from ripening too quickly. The program revealed that Alar presented a high risk to consumers, especially children. After great public outcry and agricultural industry losses upwards of 100-million dollars — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of Alar for crops grown in the US.

1990 - As the organic industry grows, national standards begin to form.The organic food industry reaches estimated sales of more than $1 billion. Congress passes the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which establishes the framework to create National Organic Standards.

1995 - Margaret Wittenberg of Whole Foods Market helps develop standards.Margaret Wittenberg, then Vice President of Governmental and Public Affairs for Whole Foods Market, is appointed as the retail representative on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

1997-1998 - Consumers speak out about questionable National Organic Standards.Organic food industry members and consumers - including Whole Foods Market supporting the write-in campaign with our customers - send over 275,000 comments to the USDA on their proposed National Organic Standards, which included provisions not recommended by the NOSB. These controversial provisions were removed based on these comments.

The USDA's Economic Research Service releases a major study on the status of organics in the United States showing that certified organic cropland more than doubled during the previous decade and that some organic livestock sectors - eggs and dairy - grew even faster.

2002 - The Organic Standards arrive.Full implementation of the U.S. National Organic Standards takes place October 21st.

2003 - Whole Foods earns national distinction.Whole Foods Market becomes the first "national certified organic" grocer in the U.S. To gain this certification, we must abide by the USDA’s strict National Organic Program standards, and agree to inspection and review by a third-party Accredited Certifying Agent.

2004 - Whole Foods Market enters the UK market with the acquisition of Fresh & Wild.All stores are certified as organic retailers by the Soil Association.

2008 - Americans choose organics; the Farm Bill increases organics research.A study by the Hartman Group reveals that nearly 70% of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, with organic fruits and vegetables the most popular type of organic foods purchased.

The 2008 Farm Bill introduces a five-fold increase in the amount allocated for existing organic programs and additional funding for new organic programs. Initiatives include research efforts and assistance for farmers managing organic certification costs.

2009 - Canada's organic industry makes it official.Canada's National Organic Standard, administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, becomes law.

2010 - Joe Dickson of Whole Foods Market joins the National Organic Standards Board.Joe Dickson, Food, Organic and Environmental Quality Standards Coordinator for Whole Foods Market, is appointed as the retail representative on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

2011 - The organic food industry shows no signs of slowing. Our Canadian stores are certified.The organics market tops $30 billion, representing a 9.5% growth over previous years. And, Whole Foods Market's Canadian stores are certified as organic retailers by CCOF.

2012 - Whole Foods Market celebrates over 30 years of growth.Whole Foods Market ends the fiscal year with 340 stores in the UK, Canada, and 39 states and more than 73,000 Team Members. The retailer now sells more than 2,400 natural and organic products.

With all that exciting growth, it's important to remember that the organic food industry is relatively recent. After all, for thousands of years, farmers worked in partnership with the land and the elements, practicing what we now think of as organic farming. It was only with the advent of the Green Revolution in the 1940s, which introduced the widespread use of synthetic chemicals into agricultural practices to boost crop growth, that a backlash developed among growers and consumers and the organic food industry was born.

Explore More

Organic Labeling
Principles of Organic Farming
What Goes Into a Certified Organic Grocery Store?
Supplement Standards