Tag Archives: Organic Foods

Wal-Mart Accused of Organic Food Fraud


The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based advocacy group which promotes sustainable farming, claims Wal-Mart (Charts) is defrauding its customers by mislabeling non-organic products as organic.

The policy group said it conducted checks of Wal-Mart stores in five states and discovered labeling violations in virtually all of the “dozens of stores” it visited.

Wal-Mart, which uses green signs to identify organic selections at its stores, said any shelf labeling mistakes are isolated events and that it often mixes organic and conventional products on its shelves to make it easer for customers to find organic options.

“Although Wal-Mart has more than 2,000 locations that may offer up to 200 organic selections in addition to thousands of non-organic offerings, we believe it to be an isolated incident should a green organic identifying tag be inadvertently placed by or accidentally shift in front of the wrong item,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Although it’s not an isolated incident if a problem is found at several locations, it does sound less like a concerted effort of fraud and more like ignorance and laziness at the various stores and by Wal-Mart’s retail food management.

Organic Food requires a fair amount of diligence, not only in the production but in the retailing. If Wal-Mart doesn’t wish to provide the consumer with the necessary level of management and work needed, then they need to stop selling and promoting organic foods.

Technorati Tags: Organic Food, Wal-Mart

Grist Responds to The Economist

About a month ago, The Economist published an article that essentially read “People who believe in Organic Foods, Fair trade Practices and the Local Food Movements are stupidheads“. In their article, they take several swipes at the ideas of ‘Ethical Shopping’, including citing Norman Bourlaug -

Perhaps the most eminent critic of organic farming is Norman Borlaug, the father of the “green revolutionˮ, winner of the Nobel peace prize and an outspoken advocate of the use of synthetic fertilisers to increase crop yields. He claims the idea that organic farming is better for the environment is “ridiculousˮ because organic farming produces lower yields and therefore requires more land under cultivation to produce the same amount of food. Thanks to synthetic fertilisers, Mr Borlaug points out, global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the amount of land used increased by only 10%. Using traditional techniques such as crop rotation, compost and manure to supply the soil with nitrogen and other minerals would have required a tripling of the area under cultivation. The more intensively you farm, Mr Borlaug contends, the more room you have left for rainforest.

Tom Philpott responds to the piece (and Mr. Bourlaug) in his most recent post over at Grist.

Borlaug’s efforts have incited bitter controversy in agricultural and social-policy circles, but you’d never know that from The Economist, which cites him without question to support the notion that conventional farming delivers higher yields than organic. “The more intensively you farm, Mr. Borlaug contends, the more room you have left for rainforest,” The Economist states, with an air of “case closed.”

But is chemical-dependent farming really more productive than organic? Samuel Fromartz, author of Organic Inc., debunked that claim in a recent comment on Gristmill. Fromartz points out that chemical farming may churn out more food per acre under ideal conditions, but over the long term — including drought periods — the yield difference dwindles. Moreover, pummeling the soil with chemicals may eventually sap land of any productivity at all. As Fromartz points out, India — which bought Borlaug’s Green Revolution package wholesale, and is often cited as one of the effort’s great successes — is now experiencing a severe soil- and water-depletion crisis.

When the initial Economist article came out, I ignored it for a variety of reasons , but primarily because it was the Christmas Season and I did not wish to engage in a topic which would knock over my Holiday Spirit (a nice rummed egg nog). But now that Mr. Philpott has returned to the discussion, I’d like to add my two pesos.

To me, The Economist’s basic argument is that food choices are an “either/or” proposition. Either traditional “industrial” food is better for society or “organic/fair trade/local” is. And since they’ve shown in the article that those who opt for the latter are spitting in the wind, that leaves “industrial” food as the better option.

Which, as many folks have shown over the past four decades, is a crock. All three of the movements cited in the Economist article seek to right the wrongs inflicted by the industrial food complex. Whether these movements are effective or not isn’t really the point, because if it is found that a process is not working as planned, new options will be tried and implemented. What won’t happen is someone saying “Oh well, Fair Trade doesn’t seem to be working, so let’s go back to the old model”.

What we’re seeing played out in these movements is the idea of food distribution evolution, not that of corporate competition. But it seems that the capitalists in the audience don’t see it that way. What they have either forgotten or chosen to ignore is that there’s a notable percentage of consumers who no longer trust the industrial model. And trust that is lost is almost impossible to regain.

Regardless of what I think, go read Mr. Philpott’s response, as he has better statistics and information to refute some of the specifics of The Economist piece.

tags technorati : Food Politics Organic Food Fair Trade

What makes an “Organic” Fish?

The New York Times hands down an article detailing the difficulties in defining what constitutes an “Organic” Fish. From the article:

The issue comes down largely to what a fish eats, and whether the fish can be fed an organic diet. There is broad agreement that the organic label is no problem for fish that are primarily vegetarians, like catfish and tilapia, because organic feed is available (though expensive).

Fish that are carnivores — salmon, for instance — are a different matter because they eat other fish, which cannot now be labeled organic.

Actually, the issue is far larger than “What does a fish eat?” The basic ideals behind the organic movement included several basic premises.

  • Produce food that allows for future sustainability for the product being raised.
  • Produce food in a manner that leaves as small of an imprint upon the environment as possible.
  • If animals are involved, treat them in a manner which is respectful and is as close to their natural environment as is practical.

To be sure, I’ve oversimplified the premises, and they have since been evolved and codified to a point where these standards can be applied on a larger scale, but I think the basic points are there.

Now when applying the above to typical farm animals such as cows, chickens and pigs, these ideals can work in concert with one another. It is not a stretch to think of raising cattle and yet still be true to the concepts listed above.

But these ideals contradict one another when you apply them to an animal less domesticated than your average cow. Salmon is a great example of this. It could be argued that an interest of an individual salmon is best served if that fish was allowed to be wild. However, for sustainability of the species as a whole, it may be best for the fish if salmon farms were allow to propagate as long as they were run in such a way that it did not adversely affect various eco-systems (always an iffy proposition where fish farms are concerned).

In other words, the basic ideals of the organic movement would seem to be at odds with one another, at least where raising fish is concerned.

I know this would never happen, because greed has now become a variable in what defines ‘organic’, but perhaps it would be best if there were types of food where an ‘organic’ label would simply be inappropriate to use. To me, the idea of ‘organic fish’ is equal to ‘organic venison’. The problem is that no one can tell whether either ‘organic fish’ or ‘organic venison’ is a contradiction or a redundancy.

Thanks Jack

tags technorati : Organic Organic Food Seafood Salmon

What’s in it for me?

I have various search terms logged into various blog readers, and sometimes it comes back with peculiar stories and ideas that need to be said. That is how I came across the following items.

Item one:

The writer of Dethroner, Joel, had recently talked about trying to lose weight, and gave advice along the lines of “Buy pre-packaged foods” and “Eat less than 1,500 calories worth a day”. A commenter, by the name of Grady, followed up by saying “Youâ??ve lectured about how there are things you have to admit to yourself if you want to be successful losing weight. Youâ??re going to have to admit to yourself that you must eat fresh, minimally processed food regularly if you want to be healthy.”

To which Joel responded with the following:

Some of us have lives, jobs, stresses, and realities we face every day that make switching from our unhealthy lifestylesâ??and we know theyâ??re unhealthy; our bodies testifyâ??straight away into a wholly organic, hand-prepared, completely healthy lifestyle. The thought of purchasing and preparing every last bit of food that goes into our bodies is daunting and serves as a bulwark in which we can hunker down with our insecurities to inaction, stocked as it is with cheeseburgers, chocolate milk, and the echoing rejoinders of self-righteous, preening princes like you.

Item two:

There’s a recent Metafilter discussion about the benefits and challenges for eating local, including the following comment:

I can’t keep up anymore…

Are we all supposed to move to the large urban centers because there won’t be enough oil for everyone to have cars and drive all over everywhere?

Or should we all move out to the country because there won’t be enough oil to ship all the food all the way to the urban centers?

Or, should Topeka or Des Moines become the new NYC?

Should I never eat bananas because I don’t live within 100 miles of where they are produced? I’m 500 miles landlocked no matter which direction you go… should seafood be forbidden in the country’s interior?

Instead of expecting the entire world’s population to return to an agrarian lifestyle, finding more efficient ways of transport and cheaper/renewal fuels MIGHT be a tad more productive. These neo-agrarian dreams are just that… dreams.

Item three:
From an article in Adage entitled Organics Fail to Yield Cash Crop for Food Giants:

It’s been enthusiastically embraced by marketers, blessed by Wal-Mart and touted as the holy grail of growth for an industry desperately in need of it. But after a stupendous start, organic foods are looking suspiciously like a sensation sizzling out.

All of these items have a current theme in them which bears looking at. In essence, if advocates of Slow Food, Organic Food or any of the other food movements which have popped up wish to have their movements evolve into the mainstreams consciousness, they’re going to have to answer a question that will be asked of them repeatedly. To wit, “What’s in it for me?”

Before the advocates shrug off the query as insensitive and too chock full o’ self-interest, it’s best to re-examine it and understand that it is a fair question to ask. There are many reasons for people’s food decisions, but chief among them are the effect of the purchase on two valuable components of the purchaser’s resources – time and money.

That “organic food is better for you” or “eating local is better for the environment” and the plethora of societal-improvements that may or may not occur if these ideals moved into the mainstream are certainly compelling reasons for some – Enough so that it allows these movements to get to where they are today.

However, mainstream society often doesn’t work towards societal-improvements. They work towards what’s best for themselves. That often means that they’ll spend three dollars on industrial ground beef instead of 5 dollars per pound of grass fed ground beef, saving themselves two dollars to use elsewhere. It means that they’ll eat a Budget Gourmet for dinner in place of making it themselves in order to allocate the 30 minutes they have saved on a more enjoyable task.

If your food ideals are such that they require a sacrifice of time and/or money, how do you convince an individual with limited time and/or money that those sacrifices are worth making?

Technorati Tags: Food Politics

The Death of Organic? Not so fast

…according to Mark Morford.

One example: Stonyfield Farm’s organic yogurt. As BusinessWeek points out, the stuff is made not on an idyllic working farm like the one on the label but rather in a giant industrial factory. They get their milk trucked in from a whole range of suppliers and it’s possible they will soon begin to import some of their organic ingredients — in dried, powdered form — from New Zealand, so as to meet national demand, delivering it all over the country via pollutive trucking companies.

This is the harsh reality, the real cost of mainstream organic. There apparently aren’t enough happy small, Earth-conscious local farms around to produce this stuff in sufficient quantities to feed the entire Wal-Mart nation. Massive compromises have been made. And those compromises mean “organic” is a shell of its former self.

What Mr. Morford writes about is true, to a point. However, one should not discount what the organic movement has taught a fair amount of our population.Reading the labels, knowing where the food comes from, understanding the effect farming (and more to the point, industrial farming) has upon the environment – all of these are now a large part of many people’s purchasing habits. My guess, without any evidence to support my claim, is that it’s a larger portion of the public doing that than, say, 10 – 15 years ago.

Being engaged in how companies develop their products means that it’s more likely that consumers are going to call bullshit on bullshit practices. The best example of that? The issues surrounding Horizon Milk is the first bit that comes to mind, but I could think of others who have sold out the ideals in the name of big business.

And let’s not forget that even if the organic standards are watered-down, they’re still better than what was in place 30 years ago.

Meanwhile, the organic movement that we’ve come to love and respect has evolved into several other food movements. Organic hasn’t died, it’s simply changed addresses after agri-business moved into the neighborhood.

Weekend food for thought…so to speak.

Technorati Tags: Organic Food

Lower Organic Standards not just an American Issue

From the Guardian:

Supermarkets are putting pressure on organic food watchdogs to lower standards so they can fully exploit a billion-pound industry which is growing by 30% a year, according to leading figures in the movement.

Fears that organic farming is falling victim to commercial pressures to abandon key principles have led to disputes in the Soil Association, the gold standard of the groups that certify “green” products.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The increase in demand of organic food is a free market indictment of the current food distribution system. Even if current organic standards are watered down, people will not stop looking for more ethical ways of getting food onto their table.

Of course this shouldn’t stop anyone from preventing such watering down from occuring.

Technorati Tags: Organics, Food+Politics

Horizon Organic is Not Organic

But of course we’ve known that for some time now, right?

Finally, some folks in the food industry are starting to take notice and take action.

PCC Natural Markets will stop carrying milk products from the country’s largest organic dairy company, Horizon Organic, next month because it doubts that the products meet organic standards.

PCC’s biggest concern is that some cows are not receiving enough pasture time, “but there are a lot of other things that have been alleged that need to be investigated officially,” said Goldie Caughlan, PCC’s nutrition-education manager and a former member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic standards board.

PCC is a Food Co-op here in the Seattle area. Their sales method is more akin to that of a supermarket. As far as reputations go, theirs is very well-respected. So when they say “Horizon isn’t what we want”, others in the industry will likely take notice.

Good for them, I say. Playing fast and loose with Organic Standards goes against the initial ideals that the organic movement was founded upon. To call out Horizon Dairy on their bullshit is exactly what is needed.

It’s also the one of the first shots across the bow of the industrial organic companies from those who seek to hold to the movements initial ideals, at least in the financial sense. Yes, some people have talked a good game, but the only way to hold industrial organic accountable is in the one place where it counts — their bottom line.

However, I would not be surprised if Horizon and their associated dairies retaliated in some way, probably legal. There’s going to be a battle for the soul of the Organic Movement. And I think this was only the first out of many future skirmishes.

tags technorati : Organic PCC Horizon Dairy Milk Organic Milk