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The Tally Ho

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Future Organic Foods

Like many of you, I try to buy organic food as often as I can afford to do so. If not for the health reasons, to support local independent farmers. Today I was pointed in the direction of an article in Business Week, Wal-Mart's Organic Offensive. I realize that as more families want to consume more organic food the market will expand and more farmers will switch to cash in - and thats a good thing if you don't want to pay outrageous prices for apples. Of course Wal-Mart is going to drive down production costs - and of course it is less expensive in China or Brazil. I have pretty much given up on believing there is a realistic alternative at this point. But this is a primary concern
SHIFTING STANDARDS. The worries that the corporatization of organics could lead to more imports aren't unfounded. Cummins estimates that already 10% of organic foods like meat and citrus are imported into the U.S. Silk soy milk, for instance, is made from organic soybeans that are bought in China and Brazil, where prices tend to be substantially lower than in the U. S. Cascadian Farms buys its organic fruits and vegetables from China and Mexico, among other countries (see BW Online, 3/27/06, "Imports From China Aren't Pricier -- Yet").

And large companies have tried to use their muscle in Washington to their advantage. Last fall, the Organic Trade Assn., which represents corporations like Kraft, Dole, and Dean Foods, lobbied to attach a rider to the 2006 Agricultural Appropriations Bill that would weaken the nation's organic food standards by allowing certain synthetic food substances in the preparation, processing, and packaging of organic foods. That sparked outrage from organic activists. Nevertheless, the bill passed into law in November, and the new standards will go into effect later this year.

Organic farmers are straining to meet rising demand, one of the reasons that legislators have been willing to drop certain requirements for organic foods. In the past year, the demand for organic milk outstripped the supply by 10% and created acute shortages. That even prompted organic dairy company Stonyfield Farms to stop producing its fat-free 32-ounce cups of yogurt. Now Stonyfield has resumed its production, but organic milk consumption nationwide is growing 30% annually.

My emphasis added. Weakening the standards to meet the need for 'organic' is not an option unless you accompany it the slogan 'New Weaker Standards!' I know what I can afford to buy and what I can't. If the price goes up to a point where I can't buy it then I won't. But don't fool customers into thinking they are purchasing something that they are not. And that is my fear.


  • We should get Mr. Grobnik to post about his support (or lack thereof) of organic foods. I'm told that back when he was a young sprout, he was involved in some kind of co-operative living and foodbuying arrangement... buy him a beer and he might share the story.

    By Blogger Trope, at 12:28 AM  

  • Okay, okay. I don't buy organic unless they're the only veggies that look edible. Mostly I think this movement is mostly another way for rich people to feel ethical just by being good consumers, which really isn't my bag. I prefer to keep the focus on money and power, and I think "ethical consumerism" is a way for elites to say, "see, you can trust us with power." And I don't hold to that.

    Trope is referring to my time at the Greenhouse Co-op in Columbus, where we bought food colletively, resulting (as any survivor of Maoist China can attets) in a food shortage. So we would argue at meetings, with one faction insisting on spending as much of our food budget as possible at the local organic food co-op. Frustrated, I started telling people that "organic farming is genocidal racism." I had a point, too. Organic food is more expensive because the yield per acre is less. That means if all farming was organic, there would be a lot less food in the world. Rich people wouldn't mind, because they could just pay more for food, but the world's poor would suffer a terrible famine and millions would die. Thus, organic farming fails the ethical test of "generalizability" since if everyone did it, there would be disaster. In fact, the reason the world did not suffer a famine in the 80s and 90s as a result of the much-feared "population explosion" is high tech food production - chemical fertilizers and modified "Frankenfoods" that have increased crop yields.

    Of course many of my fellow Greenies disagreed with this. When I pointed out the problem of feeding the world, one hippie said, "then we should do something about overpopulation." 'scuse me? do something about overpopulation? See, I told you. Genocidal racism.

    By Blogger Elwood Grobnik, at 12:10 PM  

  • The price is what mostly keeps me away from organic foods - though the apples I usually buy are much cheaper than at the store and taste much better. Then the farmer told me it wasn't organic b/c he sprayed a bit at the beginning of the season. I kept buying them because they are cheap and taste a lot better than out of a grocery - and it does come from a local famer. I've got to the point that the only organic thing I buy is typically milk, lettuce, and free range meat and fish. My thought at the time was if there is something I eat a lot of, shouldn't it be 'clean.' But in the end, i think i have come to the conclusion that organic foods isn't just, as you say for rich people to feel ethical, but its a big marketing ploy - the whole health food/healthy living thing. A whole culture and identity has seemed to develope around it as well. I've seen a graduate school poster project on this as well. But I do think regulations will decrease thanks to the likes of wal-mart and increased demand.

    By Blogger Wells, at 11:05 AM  

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