Tag Archives: organic

Organic food industry is being overtaken by mega corporations – take a look

mega corps taking over food production
Source: Phil Howard, Michigan State University

Assoc. Prof. Phil Howard of Michigan State University tracks the evolution – or degeneration – of the United States’ organic food standard. Howard told the WaPo,

It’s easier than ever to access to foods,” he said, “and the prices have come down. On the other hand, there is continual pressure to weaken the national organic standards to increase profits – and the big companies have the clout to do that.

Still, it’s disconcerting to learn that organic has become corporatized, and Howard certainly isn’t the only sustainability professional concerned about the trend. Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumer’s Association explains what the fuss is all about:

While Cummins believes that this is still largely true in practice, he says that this will change over time. I see some troubling trends, especially in organic dairy. In that sector there is a major move toward moving production from family farms to industrial feedlot factory farms. Horizon controls 70% of the US organic dairy market, and last year it was bought by Dean Foods, he told CorpWatch..

³No way in hell can you be organic if you have over a few hundred cows. After a certain size, the operation cannot be ecologically sound anymore, among other things because of the amount of manure produced, added Cummins.

³In California there are huge organic farms that produce organic lettuce and carrots in large monocultures, using large energy inputs and receiving subsidized water- three elements that are anti-environmental and unacceptable for those who want ecologically sound farming, he adds.

In a 2002 study conducted at the University of California at Davis, Karen Klonsky documents that organic food production in California is already concentrated. Two percent of organic farm operations, about 27 growers, bring in over $1 million a year and represent over half of the organic sales in the state.

Indeed while over 90% of all U.S. farms are categorized by the USDA as small, the other 10% — big agribusiness — provide approximately 60% of all food sales.

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What! 250 non-organic ingredients in organic foods??

Corporatization of organics
I believed in organic until last week, when my childhood friend Charlie Peller challenged me about organic labeling and I decided to do some research. Charlie cautioned, “You need to be careful when you read the labeling everything labeled organic is not necessarily organic and because you pay $3 or $4 more for a bottle also does not make it organic,” and it turns out he’s completely right.

Organic isn’t what I thought it was; most organic labels are owned by BIG FOOD; and the number of non-organic ingredients has risen from 77 to 250 in the past 13 years. The New York Times looked into the reach of corporations into organic foods in 2012. Here are some excerpts from that article:

Michael J. Potter (of Eden Foods) is one of the last little big men left in organic food…

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.

All of which riles Mr. Potter, 62. Which is why he took off in late May from here for Albuquerque, where the cardinals of the $30-billion-a-year organic food industry were meeting to decide which ingredients that didn’t exactly sound fresh from the farm should be blessed as allowed ingredients in “organic” products. Ingredients like carrageenan, a seaweed-derived thickener with a somewhat controversial health record. Or synthetic inositol, which is manufactured using chemical processes.

Mr. Potter was allowed to voice his objections to carrageenan for three minutes before the group, the National Organic Standards Board.

“Someone said, ‘Thank you,’ ” Mr. Potter recalls.

And that was that.

Two days later, the board voted 10 to 5 to keep carrageenan on the growing list of nonorganic ingredients that can be used in products with the coveted “certified organic” label. To organic purists like Mr. Potter, it was just another sign that Big Food has co-opted — or perhaps corrupted — the organic food business.

…Between the time the Agriculture Department came up with its proposed regulations for the organic industry in 1997 and the time those rules became law in 2002, myriad small, independent organic companies — businesses like Cascadian Farm — were snapped up by corporate titans. Heinz and Hain together bought 19 organic brands.

Eden is one of the last remaining independent organic companies of any size, together with the Clif Bar & Company, Amy’s Kitchen, Lundberg Family Farms and a handful of others.

“In some ways, organic is a victim of its own success,” says Philip H. Howard, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, who has documented the remarkable consolidation of the organic industry. Organic food accounts for just 4 percent of all foods sold, but the industry is growing fast. “Big corporations see the trends and the opportunity to make money and profit,” he says.

BIG FOOD has also assumed a powerful role in setting the standards for organic foods. Major corporations have come to dominate the board that sets these standards.

As corporate membership on the board has increased, so, too, has the number of nonorganic materials approved for organic foods on what is called the National List. At first, the list was largely made up of things like baking soda, which is nonorganic but essential to making things like organic bread. Today, more than 250 nonorganic substances are on the list, up from 77 in 2002.

… “After DHA (docosahexaenoic acid algae oil) got onto the list, we decided to go back and look at all of the ingredients on the list,” Mr. Kastel says. The average consumer has no idea that “all these additives are going into the organic products they’re buying.”

By 1996, he realized that the National Organic Program was heading in a direction he did not like. He said as much at a National Organic Standards Board meeting in Indianapolis that year, earning the permanent opprobrium of the broader organic industry. “They think I’m liberal, immature, a radical,” Mr. Potter says. “But I’m not the one debating whether organics should use genetically modified additives or nanotechnology, which is what I’d call radical.”

What we can do about the secretive incursions into the world’s healthy food stream by Big Ag and Big Food is: fight tooth and nail against the TPP which will give corporations an amazing amount of control over our lives, economies and politics … not allow Big Money to take over and eliminate our internet freedoms … and support truly healthy food by buying from local farmers and growing our own.

I’d love to hear the ideas you have for fighting back too.

At TedX, Congwoman Pingree talks as a sustainable organic farmer

Cong Chellie Pingree on Twitter
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is the type of modern Democrat we need to keep in Washington, representing the American People’s interests at the federal level. Like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Cong. Pingree is a thoughtful, well educated, hard working and egalitarian woman with a quirky (but fun) sense of humor. She too believes that the American people can triumph over corporate greed and interests and works very hard to make sure this becomes reality.

One of the businesses Cong. Pingree owns is an organic chicken processing operation. She says she never fails to remind her colleagues that she’s an “expert chicken eviscerater.” Pingree jokes, “that’s a useful skill to have in Congress.”

In this TEDX Talk, Pingree talks about her history as a Maine Farmer and her ongoing work reforming national food policy and the federal Farm Bill. She challenges us to support the production of sustainably grown organic food in any ways we can, and charges us with helping to protect the butterflies and bees we need to help our food get naturally pollinated and thrive.

Hat tip to Theresa Lam for the find!

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Buy a sustainably grown Christmas tree or re-plant one

Want to responsibly handle your Christmas tree purchase and disposal this year? A growing number of people do, so there are options if you’re willing to spend a little extra effort, time and maybe money.

Green America reports that you can buy a cut tree from a family farm that plants “about two trees for every one cut” and grows trees on rocky soil where other crops don’t thrive. “This means that instead of barren land, the farm hosts trees that provide oxygen and combat global warming.” But, you also want an organically grown tree to avoid bringing home harmful toxins or supporting the practice of allowing pesticides and herbicides to contaminate soil and groundwater.

How to find a responsible, organic tree vendor in New Jersey

Maybe you want to replant your tree!

For this laudable goal, take a trip to the Philly area and buy a tree that can be replanted – in your backyard; by donating it back to Tiny Terra Ferma or to a local environmental center like the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education or the Upper Roxborough Reservoir … or replant it in a service event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on 20 Jan 2014.

Good luck with your responsible Christmas tree hunt and a very Happy Christmas to you! Let us know what your search turns up.

Major corps take over organic brands & dilute them

The organic designation in the United States doesn’t have the quality guarantee that it once did. That’s because major corporations have taken over the organic industry and are obviously looking to increase profits. That means buying up independent organic brands and then diluting the “organic” label by throwing their mega-billions of dollars behind lobbying to lower the standards that have protected the organic designation. Lower standards mean more profit, after all.

Is there something else going on here as well? For example, do major corps want to sell us frankenfood because they’re heavily invested in nursing homes, the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries? Well, maybe. That research is still waiting to be done, so stand by, folks.

For today, I can give you this graphic showing all of the once truly “organic” brands that are now owned by major food corporations.

Chart showing organic brands that have been taken over by Big Food companies

I hope all my Jersey friends went out and voted for Board of Education candidates today. Let me know …

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