Family vs. Corporate farming

Jack forwarded me another NYTimes op-ed piece (LI: accidental PW: hedonist)about food, and it’s definitely one that should be read to get a good idea on the nuances of the “organic vs. local” debates that have been going on of late.

Written by Nina Planck, author of “The Farmers’ Market Cookbook“, she touches upon a thought that I’ve been pondering myself over the past few months:

The organic standards – which ban synthetic fertilizer, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, genetically engineered ingredients and irradiation – are good for farming, the environment and health. The organic seal is vitally important in shops, where the consumer is several steps removed from the farmer. “Organic” is a legal guarantee that food meets certain standards.

That’s why it is a shame that the Organic Trade Association – a food-industry group whose members include such giants as Kraft, Dean Foods and General Mills, which own national organic brands – is seeking to dilute the organic standards.

The Organic movement has taken off in large part as a response to the tasteless products and horrible environmental practices that a fair amount of the corporate farms have delivered to consumers. As there is finite space within the food market, when organic foods sales grow 20 percent a year, the big boys are going to take notice. More importantly, they’re going to want a piece of the action and use whatever political capital they have to insert themselves into a market that was designed to keep them out.

In response to this, we’ve noticed over the past few years a change from the “organic versus corporate” argument to a discusiion that includes the “local versus organic” one as well.

This is not a small accomplishment.

Because the core essence of the “local” debate, is not organic standards, but rather a rejection of agri-business as a national enterprise. The central tenet of “Local farms” is that you know who grew your corn, tomatoes or wheat. This is a philosophy that the Monsanto’s and ConAgra’s of the world simply cannot compete against, as their business model, by definition, removes any interaction between consumer and grower.

It will be interesting to see how this discussion plays out over the next few years. It took 25 years for the phrase “organic foods” to become part of the everyday lexicon. I expect it will be a much shorter period of time before the “local food” movement gets the same momentum.

Check out the op-ed. It’s a good one.

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Organic Food, Buy Local

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