Big Food Turns Organics Into Big Business
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has increased the number of materials approved for organic foods from 77 to 250 since 2002. A two-thirds majority of its fifteen members is required to add items to the list. "Big Food" is said to play a powerful role in setting standards, with major corporations dominating to the board.
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan apparently credits "expanding variety" for increasing numbers on the (NOSB) list. Skeptics suggest it could be due to lenient standards and/or excellent marketing to oblivious/uninterested/ignorant consumers.
Demand, say some, can only be satisfied by companies big enough to scale up production and add value to basic ingredients. Advocacy group, Cornucopia Institute, and non-profit advisory organization, Holistic Management International, represent opposing views over size and what should be included on the list as well as composition of the decision-making board, according to The New York Times.
The board’s goal, as explained by Miles McEvoy of the National Organic Program, is to "represent the diversity of the American public and of organic agriculture." In principle, there seems little argument over this; in practice, there is argument over the extent to which it is achieved.
John Grurich in The Motley Fool says, "a surprisingly strong and ever-increasing selection of organic foods" in supermarkets is not necessarily a dream come true because "organic food simply isn’t as organic as it used to be." Mr. Grurich cites high prices as one likely reason for big corporations buying smaller producers, ensuring their share of market and profit. "For health-conscious consumers who go out of their way to buy organic, and who pay the extra money for the privilege, it’s worth re-evaluating the meaning of ‘organic’ and whether or not the extra effort — or the extra money — is still worth it."
Paul Tick of organicconsumers.org calls it "the fastest growing segment of the food industry," acknowledging that corporate participation ensures organics reach more people but also means small farmers and distributors "lose their share of the marketplace."
- Has "Organic" been oversized? – The New York Times
- Why your organic food isn’t as organic as it used to be – Daily Finance
- Big business enters the organic market place – organicconsumers.org
- What’s big food doing in the organic business? – care2.com
Discussion Question: In what ways has the increasing involvement of big food companies been positive as well as negative for the organic movement? To what degree are organic fans’ fears justified?