Facts About Organic Coffee - Organic Trade Association
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Facts About Organic Coffee


What is organic coffee?
Organic coffee is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. Organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture. Third-party certification organizations verify that organic farmers abide by the law.

What does it mean to be certified organic?
In order for coffee to be certified and sold as organic in the United States, it must be produced in accordance with U.S. standards for organic production and certified by an agency accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. U.S. requirements for organic coffee production include farming without synthetic pesticides or other prohibited substances for three years and a sustainable crop rotation plan to prevent erosion, the depletion of soil nutrients, and control for pests1

What is the size of the U.S. organic coffee market?
According to The North American Organic Coffee Industry Survey 2009 by Giovannucci (with support from the Specialty Coffee Association of America), approximately 89 million pounds of organic coffee were imported into the United States and Canada in 2008, a 12 percent increase from 2007, with most of the $1.3 billion in sales taking place in the U.S. The 29 percent annual average growth rate for the organic category documented by Giovannucci between 2000 and 2008 dwarfs the estimated 1.5 percent projected annual growth rate of the conventional coffee industry2. The survey is available from the Organic Trade Association

Where is organic coffee grown?
Organic coffee is grown in 40 countries including Bolivia, Burundi, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lao PDR, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timore-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, United States (Hawaii), Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zambia. The leading producer countries are Brazil, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Peru3
What is the size of the world organic coffee market?
Global sales of organic coffee reached 67,000 metric tons (or about 148 million pounds) in 2006, a 56 percent increase from 2003 when approximately 42,000 MT were exported. (These are the most recent figures available.)4  Forty-four percent of the total was consumed in North America, of which approximately 85 percent was consumed in the United States. 

What organic coffee products are in the marketplace?
Organic coffee products now on the market include decaffeinated, caffeinated, flavored and instant coffees, organic coffee ice cream and yoghurt, coffee sodas, hard candies, and chocolate covered beans.5 


How is organic coffee decaffeinated?
Most conventionally produced coffees are decaffeinated by using solvents such as methylene chloride (probable human carcinogen, harmful to central nervous system6) or ethyl acetate (harmful to central nervous system, kidneys and liver7). Organic coffee, however, must be decaffeinated using a certified organic decaffeination process to maintain the organic integrity of the beans. Two decaffeination processes that meet federal organic standards are the SWISS WATER® process, using only water to remove caffeine, and decaffeination using carbon dioxide (CO2). 

What labels might you see on organic coffee and what do they mean?
 USDA Logo The USDA organic seal can appear on any coffee product that contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients and that has been certified as organic by a certification agency accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The coffee may also carry a label saying “100 percent organic” or “Organic.”

Fair Trade
Fair Trade certification focuses on labor and trade standards to provide small-farmer co-operatives a guaranteed price above the conventional market. Not all Fair Trade CertifiedTM coffee is necessarily organic. However, Fair Trade CertifiedTM does require strict environmental stewardship such as prohibiting the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the most hazardous pesticides. Fifty nine percent of all Fair Trade CertifiedTM coffee imported into the United States in 2008 was certified organic8. In the United States, transactions must be audited by TransFair USA to use a Fair Trade CertifiedTM label. Certified organic producers of Fair Trade coffee receive at least $1.55/lb.9    

Bird Friendly®
The Bird Friendly® name can only be used by operators that meet inspection and certification requirements of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. All certified Bird Friendly® coffee must also be certified organic. Bird Friendly® certification requires that the coffee be shade-grown with a wide variety of native shade trees and other shade-providing species. No synthetic chemicals can be used in the processing of Bird Friendly® coffee.10  

For information on other eco-labels that may appear on organic coffee, see

(Updated August, 2009)

1 United States Department of Agriculture, Code of Federal Regulations: Title 7, Vol. 3, Chapter 1, Parts 205.202 through 205.206.

2 Giovannucci, Daniele. 2009. The North American Organic Coffee Industry Survey.
Giovannucci, Daniele, P. Liu, and A. Byers. 2008. Adding Value: Certified Coffee Trade in North America. In Pascal Liu (Ed.). Value-added Standards in the North American Food Market – Trade Opportunities in Certified Products for Developing Countries.FAO; Rome.

4 Ibid.

5 Organic Trade Association. 2009.

6U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2007. Methylene Chloride (Dichloromethane). Washington, D.C. Ethyl Acetate Material Safety Data Sheet.

8 Transfair USA. 2008. . Page 9.

9 Personal Communication with Katie Barrow, Transfair USA Public Relations Manager, August 12, 2009.

10 Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. Norms for Production, Processing, and Marketing of “Bird Friendly®” Coffee. Washington, D.C. 

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