Organic produce would have a better chance of supermarket success if the government stopped using rules that suggest that only picture-perfect food is high-quality food, a consumer group said.
Based on a survey of retailers and growers, the group, Public Voice for Food and Health Policy suggested a series of steps that could put more organic food into mainline grocers. Polls have shown wide public interest in fruits and vegetables grown without use of chemicals but sales have not matched the potential.The reason, the survey said, is that growers want to produce crops that get the highest government ratings and retailers insist on produce with virtually no cosmetic flaws. In addition, retailers often treat organic food as a curiosity or believe it will be high-priced, hard to obtain in reliable amounts and erratic in quality.
Organic food accounts for about 2 percent of food sales nationwide.
"Clearly, the marketplace can do a better job of responding to consumer concerns about pesticide use," said Ellen Haas, the head of Public Voice.
"It is high time to tear down roadblocks to marketing safe, environmentally sensitive fruits and vegetables."
Sales of organic food by large supermarkets, after increasing for five years in a row, declined last year. Public Voice said the decline indicated the presence of marketing obstacles.
About 78 percent of the 50 supermarket companies participating in the survey said they put organic produce in a separate section, which could inhibit competition. Only half of the supermarkets have the option to purchase organic food directly from local sources, the outlets most likely to handle organic food.