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Organic Produce Markets Report Soaring Business Following Scares

March 16, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Organic produce markets across California reported a dramatic jump in sales Wednesday following controversies involving Chilean fruit and commercial apples.

Sales of organically grown fruits, vegetables and juices ran as high as 35 percent above normal at some markets, and growers of the produce feared demand could soon exceed supply.

″Our organic sales have increased dramatically because of all the publicity that has been in the media in the last two weeks,″ said Kim Kaput, a produce buyer for Rainbow Grocery Inc. of San Francisco.

″We absolutely have more people coming in,″ said Jimmy Ilson, a produce worker with Real Food Co., a chain of six markets in San Francisco and Marin County. ″A lot of more mainstream people are coming in - people who would be shopping at Safeway.″

Ilson said sales at one market in San Francisco increased at least 25 percent since apple bans were imposed by some school districts and after stores nationwide were advised to remove fresh fruits from Chile because of cyanide traces found in seedless red grapes.

In Southern California, Sandy Gooch, an owner of six Mrs. Gooch’s markets, reported record sales. Ted McCaskey, manager of Erewhon Natural Foods in Los Angeles, estimated a 5 percent increase in customers.

Mike Duncan, co-owner of Cal-Organic Farms in Lamont, south of Bakersfield, said heightened demand for organic produce began when ″60 Minutes″ broadcast a report recently on a chemical used on some apples.

Under California law, produce can be called organic if no synthetic chemicals have been applied since 12 months prior to planting or bud break, said Phil McGee, administrative assistant for Santa Cruz-based California Certified Organic Farmers, an association of about 400 growers.

The organization goes even further before certifying a farm as organic. The process takes at least a year and includes soil residue analysis, inspection of the farm by an independent inspector, a notarized affidavit and full disclosure of materials used in production and a land history for 10 years, McGee said.

Apple bans at schools across the country - including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York - were spurred by a report last month on the alleged cancer risk of a chemical used on some apples.

The report, by the private Natural Resources Defense Council, claimed that children are at risk from Alar, a chemical used on some apples. Alar, the brand name for Daminozide, is used to improve the coloring of apples and slow ripening. But it is also suspected of causing cancer.

Meanwhile, the discovery of cyanide in two grapes from Chile, following a threatening phone call to a U.S. Embassy, led the Food and Drug Administration on Monday to recommend that grocers strip their shelves of fruits imported from that country.

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