Originally published August 19 2014
Is Walmart threatening organic food?
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) In the Michael Pollan sense, a bowl of fresh vegetables and whole grains that have been grown organically, without the use of industrial toxins, does not necessarily mean that it is "good food."
Writing in the Rim County Gazette's blog, Arun Gupta says that, today, you might be more likely to find an "organic foods" label "slapped on bags of barbeque potato chips than boxes of dirt-caked beets."
Gupta notes that, when Walmart announced in April that it planned to introduce the Wild Oats brand of organic food products in 2,000 of its stores, a number of food-justice advocates were jazzed. For its part, Walmart, in an announcement, said it was interested in making organic foods more affordable:
Originally introduced in 1987, Wild Oats will relaunch at Walmart starting this month with a new, more affordable price point on quality products covering a broad variety of categories -- from salsa and pasta sauce to quinoa and chicken broth. Customers will save 25 percent or more when comparing Wild Oats to national brand organic products.
Big enough to influence where organics are grown
In U.S. News & World Report, one writer championed the world's largest retailer for embracing "sustainable products and sustainable sourcing." Meanwhile, Britain's The Guardian newspaper said that the retailer was providing low-income shoppers with "an organic option they can afford."
But others are skeptical, wrote Gupta. They fear that Walmart's corporate history may actually spell trouble for organics:
Since the 1980s, Wal-Mart has revolutionized the US economy from a "push" system, in which manufacturers determined what was sold on store shelves, to a "pull" system, in which retailers set the terms.
In other words, Gupta explains, Walmart has induced its suppliers, which include iconic, legacy companies like Huffy Corporation (makers of Huffy bicycles), Levi Strauss & Co. and Master Lock, to move factories and jobs to impoverished countries while abandoning some of their quality control mechanisms. Critics think that this will result in the Arkansas-based retail and grocery giant doing the same to organic food -- pushing farms to relocate to unregulated regions around the world, which would undermine organic standards in America.
Walmart officials recently told The New York Times that its new line of organic products will remove "the premium associated with organic groceries," to enable such products to "be priced the same as similar non-organic brand-name goods." That, critics say, will likely require a relaxing of agricultural standards.
The 'Walmarting' of the organic industry?
Gupta continued by noting that Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy, organic advocacy and research organization -- and owner of a 160-acre organic farm that is used to pasture beef cattle -- says the concern is legitimate:
He says Wal-Mart's mastery of supply-chain logistics, which
enables it to bring more goods to market cheaper and faster than any
other company, could "expand the availability of organic food in the
United States." That could lower costs for shoppers, create more demand
for organic farmers and spur price reductions at Whole Foods, the
leading national health-food chain derided as
"Whole Paycheck" for the high price of many of its organic offerings.
Still, Gupta notes, Kastel says he believes it is more likely that Walmart will undermine organics. "If Wal-Mart [pushes organic food] at the expense of organic farmers, then everyone loses," he said.
Walmart's push into organic foods is the latest chapter in the evolving popularity of organic food, a movement which began more as a fringe fancy of naturalists and food originalists but which has now grown to a $35 billion-a-year industry. Today, nearly two-thirds of Americans say they "sometimes" buy organic foods and beverages, which are grown sans artificial or sewage-based fertilizers, GMOs, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics.
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