“Organic” can mean a lot of different things these days. Chemists define the word as a class of chemical compounds that have a carbon basis. Some people merely associate “organic” with something they bought at Trader Joe’s last week. “Organic” is most commonly thought of by American consumers as food that has been grown or raised without the use of conventional pesticides, antibiotics, or growth hormones. I know I always assumed that if something was labeled “organic” it meant it was probably produced in a more conscious, personal manner. But that is not always the case.
“Total U.S. organic sales, including food and non-food products, were $17.7 billion in 2006, up 21 percent from 2005. They are estimated to have reached $21.2 billion in 2007, and are projected to surpass $25 billion in 2008.“
Organic food is the fastest-growing segment of the American food sector. The pressure to produce organically is increasing for other obvious reasons too, like the high price tag for goods. The “natural” market seems to be the hippest place to be in the food world, and everybody wants a piece of it.
Most major American food processors now have brand acquisitions that are certified organic -Kraft owns Boca, M&M Mars owns Seeds of Change – even ConAgra (one of the leading distributor’s of food containing genetically modified/engineered crops) is testing the waters. They purchased Massachusetts-based vegetarian food company Lightlife in 2000.
While this shift in U.S. agribusiness will undoubtedly expand accessibility of healthy foods to lower income brackets, it will also go against the very concept of organic production.
Big business lobbyists along with Republican leaders in congress helped pass the 2006 Agricultural Appropriations Bill. The Organic Consumer Association reports that this Bill allows,
“Numerous synthetic food additives and processing aids, including over 500 food contact substances, to be used in organic foods without public review. Young dairy cows to continue to be treated with antibiotics and fed genetically engineered feed prior to being converted to organic production.“
To some, this push to lower the organic standard is a step towards the complete degradation of the “organic” label. Others argue that this bill is a way of creating an incentive for producers to improve their practices over time. Either way, small family farmers are getting the short end of the stick.
Major dairy retailers and wholesalers are pumping out “organic” milk that comes from cows brought in from conventional feedlots, and giving them little or no access to pasture. While dedicated farmers raise their cows with care, and allow them to graze. And if the big corporations continue to receive the same premium price for goods produced much more cheaply, the little guys will slowly start to disappear from the organic market, the market they’ve spent four decades creating.
*Image gratefully borrowed from libraryman’s photostream