Sunday, July 08, 2012

Big Org

Organic food has become a wildly lucrative business for Big Ag.  Premium prices mean premium profits and has created what might be called Big Org. Their financial motivation is obvious. 12 six-ounce boxes of Kraft Organic Macaroni and Cheese sell for $25.32, while a dozen 7.25-ounce boxes of the company’s regular Macaroni and Cheese go for $19.64. 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 - a $30-billion-a-year organic food industry. Conventional retailers have surpassed the specialty natural food stores, responsible for 54 percent of organic food sales in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association. Natural retailers brought in 39 percent of total organic food sales.

Big Ag has co-opted the organic food business. Big businesses argue that the enormous demand for organic products requires a scale that only they can provide — and that there is no difference between big and small producers. When 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 — from Honest Tea to Cascadian Farm — were snapped up by corporate titans. Heinz and Hain together bought 19 organic brands. Organic food accounts for just 4 percent of all foods sold, but the industry is growing fast. Nationwide, natural and organic food sales grew 8 percent in 2010 versus the less than 1 percent growth in the $630 billion total U.S. food market, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. It grew at about a 5 percent rate each year from 2005 to 2009. Big corporations see the trends and the opportunity to make money and profit.

Big Ag has assumed a powerful role in setting the standards for organic foods. Certified organic food products are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and produced by farmers and manufacturers under a set of rules, including no growth hormones, antibiotics, conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or ionizing radiation. 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. Ingredients like carrageenan, a seaweed-derived thickener with a somewhat controversial health record. Or synthetic inositol, which is manufactured using chemical processes. As well as docosahexzenoic acid algae oil, or DHA, and arachidonic acid single cell oil, or ARA.  The average consumer has no idea that all these additives are going into the organic products they’re buying. Ammonium nonanoate, a herbicide, was proposed as an acceptable organic. Those votes for came from General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, Organic Valley, Whole Foods Market and Earthbound Farms, which had two votes at the time. Fortunately Big Org lost that round. Had it prevailed, it would have been the first time a herbicide was put on the list.

Plagiaried from the New York Times

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