What to do about Big Organic?

I’ve heard the complaint that big business will inevitably dilute organic standards as early as 2005. I’m sure people in the sector have been saying it for much longer. Now in Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized? The New York Times gives fresh ammunition to the debate:

Over the last decade, since federal organic standards have come to the fore, giant agri-food corporations like these and others — Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft and M&M Mars among them — have gobbled up most of the nation’s organic food industry. Pure, locally produced ingredients from small family farms? Not so much anymore.

Sales of organic food have been growing by over 20% for quite a while now, so all of this was inevitable to a degree. While dilution of organic standards is nothing to celebrate, the growth of the sector is. The article points out that

The fact is, organic food has become a wildly lucrative business for Big Food and a premium-price-means-premium-profit section of the grocery store. The industry’s image — contented cows grazing on the green hills of family-owned farms — is mostly pure fantasy. Or rather, pure marketing. Big Food, it turns out, has spawned what might be called Big Organic.

The article seems to imply that there is a choice between big organic and small organic, but the real battle for a number of years now has been locally produced goods and big organic which might come from anywhere in the world. If you are going to your local farmers markets, you probably aren’t buying organic, because the producers there can’t afford the cost of certification.

Organic is not the be all and end all. It is simply a certification standard. I don’t think we should bemoan the loss of choice or pastoral qualities in our food that the article implies. The choice is there for us. It just might not be in your grocer’s freezer. Grab your sack and go to your local farmers market. You might even be able to meet the person that grew the food. If you are squeamish don’t ask if the cow had a name.



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