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By "Today" Food Editor
updated 3/20/2007 12:48:58 PM ET 2007-03-20T16:48:58

If you haven’t shopped for baby foods in the past few years, take a walk down the aisle the next time you are in the supermarket and you’ll see the future of adult food! More varieties (forget those peas and applesauce) of fruits and vegetables and more organic brands are squeezing the traditional products off the shelf.

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According to ACNielsen LabelTrends, dollar sales of the total organic food category jumped almost 15 percent from 2004 to 2005, while traditional food sales increased just over 1 percent. In the baby food aisle, volume was down almost 5 percent, however, the subcategory of organic baby food showed an increase of 4.9 percent.

There is no doubt that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implementation of the National Organic Standards program, which mandates clearer labeling of organic products, has contributed to the category's explosion.

In conventional farming, growth hormones are often added to milk in a genetically engineered form called BGH. Although the FDA approved the drug in 1993, there are still concerns about its safety, and some speculation that it may lead to an earlier onset of puberty in children. Another common non-organic practice is that of administering antibiotics to livestock — a practice that the AMA has publicly opposed since 2001. Many fear that this is contributing to the rise in drug-resistant microbes. Since infants are more susceptible to the harmful effects of pesticides (because of their immature immune and digestive systems), conventional farming pesticide use is also a concern. Recent reports, including the University of Washington study on pesticide exposure in pre-school children, reveal that children who are eating organic foods have far lower levels of pesticide metabolites in their bodies than those eating conventional foods.

The desire of more parents to have their babies consume foods without growth hormones, high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified ingredients and pesticides is fueling this growth. And growth is exactly what this industry needs as we continue to experience a declining birth rate … which naturally will result in less baby food sales.

Gerber, the leading brand of baby food products, is meeting the trend head on with their organic Tender Harvest line, which features fruits, vegetables, cereals with fruit, and dinners. Other popular organic baby brands include Horizon (for infant formula), Earth's Best (the brand that started the trend and offers organics for babies, toddlers and kids), and Healthy Times (with a special category available just for teethers).

We can only hope that this “nutritional correction” that is taking place on the baby food shelves will translate to continued healthier eating as these babies become children, teenagers and young adults. Perhaps then we will see the impending health disaster being caused by earlier onset diabetes, more heart disease, more cancers and obesity finally reversed.

Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to phil.lempert@nbc.com or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at http://www.supermarketguru.com/.

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