Fact or Fiction?

The organic segment is growing rapidly for both humans and pets, and retailers can take advantage by acquiring knowledge about this developing trend.



Organic products are finding a place in retail establishments everywhere. The organic food market made $10.4 billion last year and is expected to explode into a $32 billion market this year. Shoppers are demanding organic products, and more space is being allotted for them at the supermarket. The types of organic products are also expanding rapidly, from dairy and meats to spaghetti sauce, wine and toilet paper. And this trend is also prevalent in the pet industry. In fact, according to the Organic Trade Association, the organic segment of the pet industry is growing three times more than in the human market.

Retailers can take advantage of this trend by learning more about the organic sector and gaining an understanding about why customers want organic products. The first step of this process is looking at some common notions about organic products and determining whether they are true or false.

Q. There is no definition of “organic.”

A. True and false.

Organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. It includes a system of production, processing and distribution that assures consumers that the products maintain the organic integrity that begins on the farm. The National Organic Program is responsible for methods, practices and substances that are used in producing and handling crops, livestock and processed agricultural products. In other words, there are standards that organic farmers and manufacturers must adhere to, and rules of farming are very specific.

For example, organic foods must be produced without the use of antibiotics or hormones, and cannot be genetically engineered. Animals must be kept in a humane way, which is well defined under the organic rules. Organic foods must be minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation.

If a manufacturer follows the organic rules, they can use a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) seal on their products. Some pet foods and pet products have this seal. The USDA is fully committed to the human organic industry, from production to packaging. However, the association that regulates pet treats and foods, The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), is not involved in the making of organic products, nor do they have a definition for “organic.”

Q. Organic food is more nutritious than non-organic food.

A. Unknown.
There are hundreds of studies on the nutrition of organic foods. Unfortunately, the results conflict. Some show that organic fruits and vegetables have more vitamins, especially vitamin C. Others show that there is no vitamin difference between organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables. People tend to believe that organic is better for them, yet there is no conclusive evidence of this as of yet.

One of the reasons people feel that organic fruits and vegetables have more nutrition is because of the way plants grow and live. All plants need nourishment from the soil. Non-organic farmers use synthetic fertilizer, which many scientists have shown is deleterious to the plants and places stress on them. Other scientists say that fertilizers make the plants stronger and healthier, and that they have the food they need.

In terms of organic meats, such as chicken and beef, some believe it contains more nutrition and is healthier than non-organic. While there are no definitive studies about the nutrition of these meats, many people do notice a taste difference between organic and non-organic meats. The taste of meat depends upon what the animal is fed, and since organic cows are grass fed (not kept in stalls all day) the character of the meat will be different. Some say that because organically raised animals have less disease and are less stressed, they are able to supply better nutrition.

What is an absolute fact is that organic meats, fruits and vegetables do not contain chemical pesticides, chemical fertilizers or antibiotics. Therefore, organic foods do not contain toxins that may be harmful to humans or pets.

Q. Many animals raised in non-organic farming situations are treated poorly.

A. True.

Commercial farming rules allow for over crowding, no movement within the confines, no sunlight and cruel handling, though not all commercial farmers allow for these conditions. Hormones are sometimes given to the animals so that they grow faster and the meats are tenderer. These hormones can harm the health of the animal.

For organic farmers, however, there is a list of regulations that must be followed, and they insist upon animal welfare.

Q. Organic beds, toys and collars are safer for the animal and the environment.

A. True.

Organic consumers know that the organic cotton, linen or hemp is not full of residual toxins. In comparison, there are 15 pesticides used to produce non-organic cotton. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named some of these chemicals as potential carcinogens.

Since most organic consumers care about health, they don’t want to expose their pets to these toxins. Toys get eaten, beds get slept in and collars get worn for long periods of time, so if a pet owner is concerned about toxic residue, organic products are the way to go.

We all live in a toxic world. Our pets drink water that contains toxins of various types, depending on the supply; they walk on grass that has been sprayed with herbicides and then come in and lick their feet, allowing the toxins to enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract; and they are exposed to chemical flea products and heartworm medication. There is no question that our pets harbor an accumulation of unhealthy substances.

Organic products definitely have a following of health-minded people, so retailers should try and understand why these consumers want to go organic. Understanding what an organic consumer wants helps a retailer select the organic items they want to carry. And knowledge about organic products gives a store some credible information it can pass along to customers.

Jane R. Bicks, DVM, is new product development director for Trilogy International’s Healthy PetNet division and a veterinarian with over 20 years in the pet industry.

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